Archive for the book reviews Category

Book Review – Shoptimism

Posted in book reviews with tags on 10/03/2011 by Fox

He points out what’s obvious to most people other than the Buy Scolds: that human “needs” are both biological and social, and that even Karl Marx understood that life’s “necessities” transcend what is simply required to survive.

Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What by Lee Eisenberg

It was a dollar. I’ll read almost anything for a dollar, and the title caught my eye.

On the inside front cover, Eisenberg is described as “[n]either a cheerleader for consumption nor an anticonsumerist scold.” While the book did maintain some balance in between the two, I felt Eisenberg was far, far too harsh on my fellow anticonsumerists (he calls us “Buy Scolds”). He constantly nagged at the idea and completely left out what I felt was a major issue in a book about shopping: mounting consumer debt. Sure, he gave a half-hearted sentence or two to it, but overall it seems that Eisenberg lives in some world where massive amounts of consumer debt are a malign fantasy dreamed up by “Buy Scolds” to shame people into not spending money.

But overall, the book does a fair job of not overly praising shopping. I feel his treatment of advertising leaves something to be desired, sure, but I’m notoriously anti-advertising, so that’s to be expected.

Shoptimism’s split into two parts: the Sell Side, about the sellers, and the Buy Side, about the buyers. He spends most of the book looking at the mechanisms that help induce us to buy and the reasons (or justifications) we have for buying. Along the way, he talks to everyone from the founder of a retail snooping company to fellow shoppers. He spends much of the second section discussing the types of buyers (Classic and Romantic) and the differences between male and female buyers.

But never once does he explain why we’ll supposedly keep on buying no matter what. Maybe I was supposed to infer it from the text, but with a subtitle like that, I was expecting to see a chapter on it, or at least a firm statement.

I will say this, though. While he does come down hard on the side of pro-shopping, he does so in a way that’s not pandering or condescending, and very much in a way that allows you to feel fine going out and buying something you don’t need just because. While that probably isn’t a good idea for many, it’s a good reminder for “Buy Scolds” like myself. Sometimes it’s okay to go out and just buy something for the hell of it. Sometimes. Provided I have the cash for it. And even harder, provided I find something at random I actually wish to purchase.

Ultimately, though, unless you find this one on the sale rack for a buck and you’re into reading about shopping, skip it.

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Book Review: The Simple Living Guide

Posted in book reviews, simple living with tags on 07/04/2011 by Fox

Sometimes I can tell that my kids need special “nurture nights.” I pour each one a bubble bath, bring candles into the room, turn the lights low, and then serve them special “finger food” while they sit in the bubbles.

The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs

Is it just me, or does anyone else find the quote above kind of creepy? What’s creepier is that she mentions this several times throughout the book. No joke. I just find the mental picture kind of disturbing, especially the part about feeding the kids “finger food.” Creepy.

Anyway. This is a book by the woman who created the now-defunct Simple Living Newsletter, which I never read because it wasn’t free. Or I don’t remember it being free.

Like so much else out there in print on simple living, this book is pretty damn basic. Covers pretty much the same ground everyone and their blog does…work, possessions, money, travel, housing, holidays, families, etc. Anecdotal stories abound, along with the same old advice about living within your means and doing only what you love. Basic, like I said.

What sets this one apart from the others is that Janet Luhrs has taken the simple liver preoccupation with mindfulness to an extreme, tainting the book with New Age-y sentiments about everything being a “whole-body experience.” That may float Janet’s boat, but it sinks mine. I’m not into simple living as a means to a “whole-body experience” or because I want to be more mindful. I’m into it because it’s fucking practical. I found the book’s feel a major turnoff and skimmed entire sections of the book when it got too prevalent.

I don’t have anything more to say because there really isn’t more to say. It’s a basic simple living book with a New Age-y feel. And so back to Half-Price Books it goes.

Book Review – Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt

Posted in book reviews with tags , on 06/11/2011 by Fox

I could say…that an elk provides more food per death inflicted. I could say that, but I’d be inconsistent. I shoot ruffled and blue grouse, maybe only a pound of meat per death, because there is nothing sweeter tasting in these mountains except berries… Plus, in my anomalous form of accounting, they are somehow even wilder than elk. No one ranches grouse for restaurants or feeds them alfalfa through the winter.

Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt by Ted Kerasote

I recently re-read this and figured I’d go ahead and review it here, since it had a pretty formative influence on my views of food in general and hunting in particular. It’s divided into three sections: Food, Trophies, and Webs.

In “Food,” Kerasote describes his weeks spending time with the people of Kullorsuaq, Greenland and learning about their mostly subsistence hunter lifestyle. An interesting section, if dotted here and there with a more modern version of the Noble Savage stereotype.

The next section, “Trophies,” has Kerasote following along with a hunter from Safari Club, International. Much ado is made by the hunter of sportsmanship and the money trophy hunting brings to communities, both in America and abroad. If you didn’t already realize which of these two groups Kerasote prefers, you know now.

The most interesting section by far is the last, “Webs,” in which Kerasote discusses his own form of hunting, which is pretty much American-style subsistence…he hunts every year to fill his freezer, much as my own family did when I was growing up. He feels (probably correctly) that by killing one or two elk per year, foraging for berries and such, and growing a small patch of potatoes near his house, that he’s doing less damage to both the environment and to the lives of individual creatures.

“After all, where would [the elk’s] pain go? To the next county? To the next state? Or perhaps to the arctic where the oil needed to transport rice and beans to Wyoming, equivalent nutrition to the meat of these yearly elk, spills and ends the lives of three otters, a half-dozen seals, and a score of common murre chicks, which is how I reckoned the costs of being a fossil fuel vegetarian.”

“It is truly impossible, no matter how low one eats on the food chain, to take no lives at all. [Pam] calls this the ‘cruelty of vegetarianism’: the countless small creatures – invertebrate, rodent, and avian – lost as the fields are plowed and harvested.”

It’s rather unfortunate that he spends so little time on these thoughts before moving on to a discussion of the anti-hunting part of the Fund for Animals. And while he does a good job of trying to contrast different views of hunting, he leaves out those like my own family, caught somewhere between the people he discusses. He’s also got a bit of a spiritual bent to his writing that some may not appreciate. Still, it’s a valuable book and one I’m happy to keep around.

A few more interesting quotes:

“‘Most people in the United States do not go hunting, they go killing. They’re killers. I’ve been with those Texans. They drive you out, and a guy spreads a half sack of corn on one field…and they put you in a thing that looks like an outhouse…and the automatic feeder goes off, and a deer comes up, and you shoot it. That’s not hunting.'”

I included this one (said by one of the trophy hunters) because it’s true. Texans do occasionally bait while hunting, but not always. As for the outhouse, well, if you want to stalk deer through South Texas, where every piece of vegetation tries to impale you, be my guest. Stand hunting isn’t everyone’s style; it takes patience (and often beer). However, my father’s idea of sportsmanship involves no “high-fenced bullshit,” not shooting anything you aren’t willing to clean, and carrying enough gun to drop the deer dead with one shot. As Bloodties points out, hunting has a lot of cultural baggage attached to it, and everyone’s ideas on the matter differ.

“The author, the musicologist R. Murray Schafer, recounts how he once asked his meditating students to hum what they considered to be the tone of ‘primal unity’ – the sound which arose from the very center of their being… In America Schafer discovered that most students hummed B natural, which happens to be the resonant frequency of our 60-cycle electric current. In Europe, students hummed G sharp, the resonant frequency of that continent’s electrical wiring.”

[Regarding a pet’s death.] “There is no balance sheet, only a continuous departure and unexpected arrival, the flow of intimacy waxing and waning like the moon.”

Book Review – It’s All Too Much

Posted in book reviews, simple living, tiny living with tags , , on 03/07/2011 by Fox

‘…so what you’re telling me is that hoarding photos for [your son]’s future is more important to you than giving him room to play today?’

It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh

I read this one mostly out of curiosity…I don’t really need Mr. Walsh’s help. On the clutter bell curve, I’m on the side with the 100-Thing Challengees. But I was curious, mostly because a book about decluttering is somewhat of a novelty, or at least it seems that way.

Despite what Mr. Walsh says, I wouldn’t recommend giving this book to someone unless you want to piss them off. “Here! You’re a slob, read this book!” Not really a happy message. However, it is a great book to read if you’re the one wanting to declutter. Yes, the information contained within is the same stuff you’ll read, for the most part, on the many minimalist and decluttering blogs out there, but it’s rather refreshing to hear it out of the minimalist context. Never once does Mr. Walsh espouse minimalism…he stays firmly in the realm of keeping you from being on an episode of “Hoarders” and that’s all.

And I think that’s my favorite part of the book. Gone is that particular tone unique to bloggers, gone is the insinuations of the minimalist movement. It’s just a book about rescuing you from having too much crap. For people who haven’t spent a lot of time reading minimalist and decluttering posts, his discussions of the psychological reasons for “stuff” will be very enlightening. Because he’s right…it’s not about the “stuff,” it’s about your attitudes toward “stuff.”

Overall, I highly recommend it. I’d get it from the library, but I get everything from the library, so yeah. I can see some people might want to keep this around as a refresher when the “stuff” starts to encroach again. Minimalists and people who have their “stuff” firmly in hand are better off sticking with the blogs, though…this book will be nothing new.

Book Review – The Long Emergency

Posted in book reviews, green living on 11/10/2010 by Fox

If every last drop of the remaining 1 trillion barrels could be extracted at current cost ratios and current rates of production – which is extremely unlikely – the entire endowment would last only another thirty-seven years.

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

God damn this is a depressing book. In more ways than one. Kunstler sets out to single-handedly prove that we’re running out of oil and that society as we know it will collapse. Very doomsday.

I agree on one point: we are running out of oil. Don’t know when, but eventually there will be no more, and it will probably suck. However, Kunstler takes it a step further and says that not only are we running out of oil, but we’re running out NOW, and we have no tech to save us and global warming/climate change/global climate disruption/OHGODWE’REALLGONNADIE is going to happen and everyone living in suburban America is going to die a horrible slow death. And the people in the South are screwed because everyone west of Texas is going to end up being part of Mexico, and all the hicks east of Texas are going to kill each other, and Texas will be filled with hicks and Mexicans killing each other. And dying because there’s no water. Along with your puppy. But apparently New England, aside from the major metropolitan areas, will be fine. So go move there, you damn yankees.

Really, though. He makes some strong logical arguments, which are refuted with equal logical strength by The Skeptical Environmentalist. Believe what side you will. He also states that none of the alternative energy sources we’re developing are going to save our asses. He makes some good arguments regarding infastructure and the fact that nuclear power can’t currently be used to fuel our vehicles.

And that’s great and all. He’s just got one big-ass problem.

He doesn’t source anything.

Apparently he just pulls some numbers out of his ass or something. Really. The above quote about thirty-seven years? No source. At all. No sources, no bibliography, nothing. Nada. Zip, zero, zilch. When he does source, he tends to source crap like The New Yorker or CNN Online or other bullshit. Magazine articles, as opposed to peer-reviewed articles. That makes me think all of this is just plain old bullshit. He literally cited only a single source that has any credibility at all.

And that, my friends, killed this book completely. How can I believe a word of what this guy is saying? And he’s not saying thinks like “Many Americans now live in suburbs.” No, it’s crap like “Worldwide discovery of oil peaked in 1964 and has followed a firm trendline downward ever since.” That shit needs some sources. Who says that, and what data do they have to back it up. Even Al Gore fucking had sources.

So in the meantime, I’ll just sit here and wait for the hicks and the Mexicans to start rioting.

Book Review – An Inconvenient Truth

Posted in book reviews, green living with tags , , , on 07/21/2010 by Fox

People…want to deny global warming because it’s easier than dealing
with it…

An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore

First off, this book reads like a cross between a National Geographic article, a memoir, and a Dr. Seuss book. Three hundred twenty-five pages and I finished it in two and a half hours. If Al Gore was trying to write a book that was “accessible,” he overshot. Slightly. I could have read and understood this book back when I was in the third grade. When I flipped through it in the library, I laughed. Out loud. I probably startled a few people. There are big pictures that take up both pages, some with a little caption. There are pages that have, I shit you not, about five words on them. The most words per page are found in the sections where he talks about his sister, or his childhood, or when he got elected to some office or other in Tennessee. Hell, his memoirs took up more of the book than his “science.”

And about that “science.” The entire book rests upon one premise: that climate change is anthropogenic. (This blog is not written by a five-year-old, nor is it written for five-year-olds. If that word is too big please go read Twilight or something.) Gore’s entire argument for anthropogenic climate change rests on one flimsy chart. There’s a picture of the movie version here, along with some criticism. One commenter on that post pointed out that the “recent” rise in temperature doesn’t match the rise in CO2 the way the other rises in temperature matched their rises in CO2. I found that interesting, myself. If you were wondering about those lags, they’re right here on this graph. This guy, who seems to be in the global warming camp, even says “It turns out that the story is far more complex than [CO2→ΔT], and although Al Gore was not lying when he said that the CO2 and temperature are related, his presentation of what occurred was intentionally misleading.”

And that’s the crux of the matter, here. The whole book is one misleading graph, chart, or statement after another. A chart just before his famous one depicts the “departures in temperature from the 1961-1990 averages.” It goes back 1,000 years. According to the chart, with few exceptions the temperature has been below the average until recently. Seems pretty straightforward. But it stops at 1,000 years. Turn the page, you see the main graph, which goes back 600,000 years (and depicts that our planet has, in fact, been warmer than it is right now. Somehow I think the planet survived just fine.) But if we have all that data, why bother showing the smaller graph, which is just a different depiction of the same damn data? Furthermore, he showed us the smaller graph twice. First, vertically, on page 63, and then again, horizontally this time, on 64. The next freaking page.

And that was it for proving the anthropogenic nature of climate change. One measly little graph that only requires a mention that correlation does not mean causation. After that, he moves straight on to “more ‘proof’ that the planet is getting warmer” and “what will happen to the planet if it gets really hot.” For the next 250 pages. At one point, he lists American cities that had record-breaking heat waves in 2005, “including, significantly, New Orleans.” For one, he doesn’t seem to know where exactly New Orleans is. Mississippi Delta, yes? For some reason, it’s depicted as right in the middle of Louisiana. And the bullet merely states “On July 25, 2005, The Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana, hit 98 degrees F.” If Louisiana is anything like Texas (and considering the proximity of these two states I think it’s likely), then 98 is fairly common in the summer. No “record” is mentioned. Apparently he was stretching for a few more bullets to round out his little map of the US.

I could go on. For days. I actually have the back of a receipt filled with notes on various oddball bits of shit that are in this book. Photos of rivers wet one year and dry the next, which is probably due more to seasonal and yearly fluctuations than climate change. I should also mention that his assertion that hurricanes are more costly now than ever before because of climate change is flawed. Hurricanes are more costly now because we have more crap than ever before and we’re living on the coast more than ever before. What did I say earlier about correlation and causation?

One interesting thing I’d like to get a source on was mentioned only briefly during one of his memoir-like digressions. “…[T]he presence of air pollution in the ice cores visibly declined not long after passage of the US Clean Air Act in 1970…” I’d like to look into that to see if it’s true.

Now it’s time to be brief and harsh. This book is full of shit. It was written by a hypocritical dumbass who assumes that people will eat up any pseudo-scientific bullshit you feed them. The scary part is that a lot of people did eat this up. At best, this should have been titled “An Inconvenient Half-Truth Spread With a Liberal Dose of Misinformation.” And speaking of liberal, apparently everything is the Republicans’ fault, specifically the Bush-Cheney administration. Too bad most of the graphs he uses show that shit started happening in the 1970s, well before Bush the Second was elected into office.

I will not mention carbon offsets. I will not mention carbon offsets. I will not mention carbon offsets. I will not mention carbon offsets. I will not mention carbon offsets.

I’d also like to mention briefly that I picked the leading quote out because I thought it was funny as hell. I’m a climate change skeptic with a smaller carbon footprint than Mr. Gore and that amuses me to no end.

Book Review – Food Rules

Posted in book reviews, simple living with tags on 06/23/2010 by Fox

Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

Oh, Michael Pollan. I really do like your books.

It’s a fucking pity you keep trying to sell us “In Defense of Food” over and over again. It was a really good book. I loved it. But for the love of fuck, don’t repackage the Spark Notes edition and try to fucking sell it to us as something new.

And that’s all that “Food Rules” is…the Spark Notes version of “Defense.” If I went back and checked, probably 75-90% of this very slim “book” would be direct copy/pastes from “Defense.” Not worth the eleven dollar price tag, I assure you. I’d call it an Abridged Series, but the joke would fall flat as the book’s not even funny.

If you really want to read it, go sit down in a chair at the Barnes and Noble and read it there. I finished it in less than half an hour and while I’m a notoriously fast reader, I’m not that fast.

And speaking of Abridged, if I don’t stop now, this post will be longer than the book I’m reviewing.