Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

Flame in the Mist

Book Notes

The sequel to this book is coming out soon, or was just published, or something of the sort, and is being promoted heavily, which means this book is also being promoted heavily. So.... no surprise it ended up on my reading list. I had, I don't know, enough non-fiction books read that a binge on fiction books didn't seem TOO out of character for me, and this one was available at the library, so, I read it.

Definitely a young adult book, though I'm not fully sure why I feel that way. Maybe the speed of the reading, maybe the uncomplicated words used, maybe the plot, maybe the characters themselves are young, maybe the lack of subtlety, I don't know. The book felt YA in a way that many YA don't feel.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it. I did, it just wasn't a difficult read. Fast paced fluff, set in a magical alternate universe of feudal Japan. All the "women are property" and "boys fight with swords" and "this boy happens to have none of the usual hormones in him during his teens" stereotypes of how feudal Japan is viewed from the West.

Quick read, I added the sequel to my reading list, putting the hold out at two months. I'm somewhat invested in the characters, but not enough to drop everything. It's a cute book, and recommended if you're a fan of the genre or the author. If you want a great review of the book from someone writing a review and not just posting notes as I am, Alex Brown has a good one, which also lists more eloquently some of the reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for the book (because it's been done before).

She knew she was being difficult. Knew Nobutada wished for her to make a decision. At the very least, wished for her to offer an opinion. To make a useless play at control. A play Nobutada could then smugly subvert, as her elder. As a man.

Try as she might, Mariko could not help the resentment simmering beneath the surface. Control is an illusion. Expectations will not rule my days. Not anymore.
Page 9

Yeaaaaaaaaah.

She softened her tone—a pitiful attempt to mollify him. One that was sure to chafe, as her contrary nature so often did. Her brother, Kenshin, frequently gave her grief about it. Frequently told her to be less ... peculiar. To conform, at least in these small ways.
Page 9

Yeah, less odd.

A constant reminder. But he could not afford to feel remorse for his past decisions. They had not been made lightly.
Page 48

This was an experiment, and experiments of all sorts intrigued her. They offered a way to glean knowledge. To use it—shape it, mold it—into whatever she needed it to be.
Page 54

Hattori Mariko had lived a life disdaining much of the silk and luxury her status had afforded her, and there was a delicious comfort in no longer having to put on airs that had always seemed so foreign to her.
Page 55

Sometimes we must fall forward to keep moving. Mariko had not understood it at the time. Only recently had she begun to grasp its meaning. Remain motionless—remain unyielding—and you are as good as dead. Death follows indecision, like a twisted shadow. Fall forward. Keep moving. Even if you must pick yourself up first.
Page 74

“If you intend to take anything, then take my advice,” he said. “This one time only, I’ll offer it without cost: the best way to win a fight is to avoid it.”
Page 76

“You haven’t brought your sword to be polished in quite some time.” Amaya stepped toward him. “My father mentioned it only yesterday.” She held out her left hand. “Give it to me.”
Page 116

Nice double-entendre.

“I am not calm,” she said finally. “It’s a constant effort to quell my fear.”

“Then why bother?”

“Because I do not wish to appear weak.”
Page 141

“And you shouldn’t dismiss your abilities. It insults both you and me at the same time.” Another raise of his brows. She suspected people did not often speak to Yoshi in such a direct manner.

“Is that so?”

“Yes. You insult yourself by dismissing skills that took you a lifetime to develop. At the same time you insult me by stating that I need only try—as though the only hindrance is my own lack of effort.” Mariko’s speech grew more rapid with each passing word. She took a deep breath before continuing. “To even attempt something, one must first believe in the possibility. And then be granted an opportunity.”
Page 143

“Consistency is not enough. It doesn’t account for chance, and there is always a chance the handle will strike the mark instead of the blade. No amount of skill can thwart it every time.”
Page 145

“I believe the stars align so that souls can find one another. Whether they are meant to be souls in love or souls in life remains to be seen.”
Page 198

Beautiful words were beautiful words, even to the most practical of minds.
Page 199

“Have you ever loved anyone?” she asked Ranmaru bluntly, pleased to see him startle, if only for a heartbeat. Serves him right for starting this mess. Ranmaru hesitated before replying.

“Yes.”

“Did it feel like magic?”

Irritation bled into each syllable. “Sometimes it does.” But his smile was not from the heart. “Other times it feels like an endless siege.”
Page 203

“Another reason I cannot possibly be water.” Though there was heat to her words, she kept her voice even. “Water is temperamental. It doesn’t assume any shape on its own. It takes the shape of whatever is around it. And I have never wished to be controlled by my surroundings.”

“And yet you are, all the same.” She splashed water at him. His smile was thoughtful. “Water is not beholden to anything. It can cut through rock. It can vanish into thin air. With time, it can even destroy iron. You should not see it as a weakness.”
Page 248

“Do you want me to promise?”

“Promises mean nothing to me.” Ōkami’s tone was soft. Severe. “They are words said to assuage any fool who wishes to believe.”
Page 253

“Don’t draw a line. Unless you wish for me to cross it.”

“Well then, don’t cross it.”
Page 272

Don't think about elephants.

“It’s the meaning I give it. Each breath exists for that one moment only. We live for that one moment only.”
Page 273

“Don’t have expectations of me. Don’t look at me and think you should be seeing something else.”
Page 274

For all those times a man had caused her to feel fear. For all those times she’d been made to think something was wrong with her. For all those times she’d been forced to believe a girl was somehow less than a boy.
Page 330

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”
Page 346

“The only power any man has over you is the power you give him.”
Page 374

Persepolis Rising

Book Notes

This is Book 7 of The Expanse series

Ah, yes, the Expanse series. Again, as before, reading this book was like coming home. Yes, the plot starts twenty years after the end of the last book, yes, the book includes Holden and his righteous ass, yes, everyone is the same and everyone isn't the same, twenty years changes a lot.

The ship is transferred to Bobbie, we all saw that coming. The dynamics of the power exchange are tense, we all, also, saw that coming, if only because we react similarly when our worlds shift, and James S. A. Corey, I mean, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, know how to write people.

I read enough "but I don't want to spoil it for you!" blurbs to know someone dies somewhere in the book, so I went ahead and read the plot summary on Wikipedia, which does spoil that particular plot point for the reader. I actively wanted to know so that I could read the book in peace, ymmv.

I noticed I started reading more slowly in the second half of the book, and recognized I was going it so that the book would last longer. I did enjoy the book (unlike Cibola Burn, which nearly turned me off the series), and would recommend the series to any science fiction fan (if only so that they could see Holden's actions at the end, so worth it).

In the time he’d worked with Winston Duarte, Paolo had found much to admire in the man. The high consul was intelligent, given to astounding leaps of comprehension on complex topics but still measured and thoughtful in his decision making.

Duarte valued the counsel of others but was decisive and firm once the information was gathered. He could be charismatic and warm without ever seeming false or insincere. But more than anything else, Paolo respected his total lack of pretension.

Many lesser people, holding a position like absolute military dictator of an entire planet, would wrap themselves in pomp and glittering palaces. Duarte had instead built the State Building of Laconia.
Location 182

“The ironic thing?” Duarte said. “I’ve always rejected the great-man idea. The belief that human history was formed by singular individuals instead of broad social forces? Romantic, but …” He waved a hand vaguely, like he was stirring fog. “Demographic trends. Economic cycles. Technological progress. All much more powerful predictors than any one person."
Location 243

But as an objet d’art, Terra was hard to beat. Humanity had done its level best to kick the shit out of the slowly spinning egg. Overpopulation, exploitation, atmospheric and oceanic imbalance, and then three military-level meteor strikes, any one of which would have fucked up the dinosaurs. And here it still was, like a soldier. Scarred, broken, reimagined, rebuilt, and remade.
Location 267

Time was supposed to heal all wounds. To Drummer, that was just a nice way of saying that if she waited long enough, none of the things that seemed important to her would turn out to matter. Or at least not the way she’d thought they did.
Location 270

It was an excellent question. Policy was a ratchet. If she pulled the trigger, gave the order that the next unauthorized ship through was going to be turned into scrap metal and regrets, it wasn’t something she could pull back from.

Someone much better at this than she was had taught her to be very careful doing something if she wasn’t ready to do it every time from then on. But, Christ, it was tempting.
Location 324

“There are always people who are wary of change. And that’s a good thing. Change should be watched, moderated, and questioned. But that conservative view shouldn’t rein in progress or put a damper on hope."
Location 345

She’d grown up in a universe where people like her were disposable, and she’d lived long enough for fortune’s wheel to lift her up higher than Earth’s sky.
Location 358

Time healed all wounds, but it didn’t erase the scars so much as decorate them.
Location 364

Age showed up in unexpected ways. Things that had always worked before failed. It was something you prepared for as much as you could.
Location 402

It seemed to her that the real sign you were getting old was when you stopped needing to prove you weren’t getting old.
Location 424

She climbed the short ladder up through the hatch into the cockpit, trying to enjoy the ache in her shoulders the way she’d once enjoyed the burn after an intense workout. As an old drill sergeant had told her, pain is the warrior’s friend. Pain reminds you that you aren’t dead yet.
Location 439

“You really think they’ll be dumb enough to make a play?” Bobbie asked.

“I don’t want to bet my life on other people being smart,” Holden said.

“Voice of experience?”

“I’ve been hurt before.”
Location 765

That seemed to be the human pattern — reach out to the unknown and then make it into the sort of thing you left in the first place. In Holden’s experience, humanity’s drive out into the universe was maybe one part hunger for adventure and exploration to two parts just wanting to get the hell away from each other.
Location 775

“You should come back soon, then,” she said. “And stop hooking up with all the girls on Medina.”

“I would never be unfaithful to you.”

“Damned right you wouldn’t,” Drummer said, but there was laughter in her voice too now. Drummer knew that she wasn’t an easy woman to love. Or even to work with. There weren’t many people in the vast span of the universe that could navigate her moods, but Saba was one of them. Was the best at it of anyone.
Location 904

Even for a woman born to the void, it was overwhelming. And everyone seemed to want her to control it for them. To take responsibility for it all so that they could feel like someone, somewhere was in charge.
Location 986

“Really? Because I’ve got a half dozen other arguments I’ve been working on for why it’s not a terrible idea.”

“Oh yeah, hold on to those,” Holden said. “I’m going to flip my opinion back and forth for weeks.
Location 1112

“That you were letting the universe down by not taking on every fight there was? Because I worked on that one for a while. I’ve got some good lines practiced up.”
Location 1115

Time and age, sorrow and laughter had taken some of the curve out of her cheek, left her skin a little looser at her neck. They weren’t young anymore. Maybe you could only really see that someone was beautiful when they’d grown into themselves.
Location 1119

There was a certain luxury to the thrust gravity of steady acceleration. Hooking your nethers to a vacuum toilet was one of the indignities space travel occasionally forced you into. On the float, with nothing to pull your waste away, it was that or have pee globes sharing your living space. Being able to just sit on a toilet in the crew head and relax for a moment while you did your business was something to appreciate.
Location 1150

Plan it through before you go in, because once the bullets start flying, the time for thinking is over. All you can do is move and react.
Location 1214

Holden was Holden. He’d need to take the weight for every bad thing that happened, and to overstate his appreciation for the good ones. It’s what made him him. He projected selfless heroism on everyone because that’s what he wanted to see in people. It was the same thing that caused most of the problems in his life — most people weren’t who he wanted them to be.
Location 1274

This I understand.

“No one is ever ready,” the admiral said. “But you don’t know that until after it’s happened.”
Location 1421

“Yeah, but my favorite thing about Holden was knowing he’d take a bullet for any one of the crew. Pretty sure you actually have taken a few for us, so that ain’t changing,” Amos said, then paused for a moment.
Location 1596

“Don’t let things sit for too long. It’s always tempting to just ignore the things that aren’t actually on fire just at the moment, but then you’re also committing to spend your time putting out fires.”
Location 1693

It wasn’t even that she was worried about the outcome of this particular encounter. It was that there was a better approach, she’d told them what it was, and they weren’t going to do it. And her ship — her people — were going to shoulder some part of the unnecessary risk. There was no scenario ever that was going to make that okay with her.
Location 1878

"I mean, I’m all for forgiveness and bygones being bygones, but it’s easier to stomach that after the assholes are all dead.”
Location 1894

She opened a channel to the rail-gun emplacements before she was consciously aware she’d done it, the certainty growing in her even as she got the lock that it wouldn’t be enough. That nothing would be. But there was a way you did these things. An order to battle, even when the battle was doomed.
Location 1936

“It’s … magnetic?” Naomi said, her tone managing to be authoritative and astounded at the same time. This is what it is, but I don’t believe what I’m seeing.
Location 2017

“Is that possible?” the duty officer said, her voice small and tight.

“Only if you define ‘possible’ as things that have already happened,” Naomi said,
Location 2020

“Yes, sir,” she said. “Are you taking command?”

“No, I’m not. But this is the right thing to do, and we need to do it now. So we should do it. Please.”

Her expression fell a degree. She’d hoped someone in authority had arrived. Someone who knew what to do. He recognized the hope and the disappointment both.
Location 2042

Watching it all happen from his position in the ops center, Holden found that he had to admire the level of training and discipline the Laconians displayed. They left no doubt that they were absolutely in charge, and they responded to any aggression with immediate lethal force. But they didn’t abuse the civilians. They didn’t push anyone around. They showed nothing that looked like bravado or bullying. Even the violence didn’t have any anger behind it. They were like animal handlers.
Location 2061

"Loyal citizens of the empire will know only peace and prosperity, and the absolute certainty of their own safety under our watchful eye. Disloyalty has one outcome: death.”

“Ah,” Naomi said, though it was more a long exhalation than a word. “The nicest totalitarian government ever, I’m sure.”

“By the time we figure out all the ways it isn’t,” Holden said, “it will be too late to do anything about it.”

“Will be?” Naomi asked. “Or is?”
Location 2112

“You’re about to fuck up,” Avasarala said, and her voice was harder than stone. “I can keep that from happening. And we can have that conversation here in front of these poor fucking shitheads, or you can roll your eyes and humor the crazy old bitch with a cup of tea and we can have a little privacy. You can blame me for it. I won’t mind. I’m too old and tired for shame.”
Location 2185

“It was a dick move,” Avasarala said, pouring a cup of tea for herself and then another one for Drummer. “It’s my fault. I overreact when I’m scared.”
Location 2198

“How am I about to fuck up?”

“By trying to get back your losses,” Avasarala said. “It’s not just you either. You’re going to have advisors on all sides who want the same damn thing. Mass a force to reclaim Medina, find a way to coordinate, take the fight back to Laconia. Through a massive effort and at tremendous cost, push our way back to the status quo ante.”

“Sunk-cost fallacy?”

“Yes.”
Location 2206

“You don’t think we can get the slow zone back?”

“How the fuck would I know? But I do know you can’t get it back as your first step. And I know how much you want to. It feels like if you’re just smart enough, fast enough, strong enough now, it won’t have happened the way it already did. But that’s not how it’s going to work. And I know how consuming that grief can be. Grief makes people crazy. It did me.”
Location 2211

“I’m telling you he came back because he thinks he can win,” Avasarala said. “And if he thinks that, you should prepare yourself for the idea that it’s true.”

“There’s no point, then,” Drummer said. “We should just roll over? Put our necks under his boot and hope he doesn’t step on us too hard?”

“Of course not. But don’t talk yourself into underestimating him because you want him to be the next Marco Inaros. Duarte won’t hand you a win by being a dumbfuck. He won’t spread himself too thin. He won’t overreach. He won’t make up half a dozen plans and then spin a bottle to pick one. He’s a chess player. And if you act on instinct, do the thing your feelings demand, he’ll beat us all.”
Location 2244

“I’ve seen this before. This is us getting paved over. All we can do now is try to find some cracks to grow through.”

“Cracks?” Alex said, then sat back down with a thump. “How long I known you? Half the time I still got no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”
Location 2544

In the distance, the Belters were pulling things out of their coats and bags. Bobbie felt the surge of adrenaline in her blood the same moment as the calm descended on her: danger followed immediately by the well-cultivated response to danger. It felt like being home.
Location 2608

"Bringing Laconian focus and discipline to Medina Station and the other systems isn’t a matter of imposing our customs and rules on them.”

“I’m surprised to hear you say that.”

“Our discipline is ours, sir. The same actions can have different meanings in different contexts. What would be routine back home would seem draconian here. Anything harsher than routine will read as a wild overreaction. I believe the high consul would agree that underreacting to this would be a more persuasive show of authority.”
Location 2721

“I’m really wishing Titan were still on that list of options.”

“That’s waiting for yesterday, sweetheart.”
Location 2821

I love this response. Going to co-opt it.

Naomi murmured, shifted her pillow, and fell back into it without ever quite breaching up to consciousness.
Location 2846

Naomi shifted again, pulling the pillow over her head. She sighed. Her eyes stayed closed, but she was with him again. Awake, but not ready to admit it.
Location 2859

“Been brooding the whole time?” she asked.

“Some of it, yeah.”

“Did it help?”

“Nope.”
Location 2863

Rarely does.

The deep human instinct to come together in crisis. To take care of each other. In its best light, it was what made humanity human.
Location 2880

Bobbie had never really thought about how much communication changed when every time you spoke, you had to be close enough that the other person could stab you if they wanted to. Never before, anyway.
Location 3015

History was a cycle. Everything that had happened before, all the way back through the generations, would happen again. Sometimes the wheel turned quickly, sometimes it was slow.
Location 3190

“I’m thinking this through while I’m saying it, so just …”

“Got it,” Holden said. “Whatever it is, take a swing at it. We’ll work it out.”
Location 3476

“I’ve heard that story,” Bobbie replied. “Wish I’d been here to back you guys up in that fight.”

Clarissa shrugged. “The story’s more fun than the actual experience was. You didn’t miss much.”
Location 3640

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Avasarala said. “Though I feel like I shouldn’t be. I actually read history. It’s like reading prophecy, you know.”
Location 3818

Singh assumed there was a faith element to the risk that he was just missing. In his opinion, faith was generally for people who were bad at math.
Location 3885

Panic and alarm were exhausting. He was exhausted by them, and Medina was exhausted too. It was already shifting into its new routine.
Location 4041

But the fear was eroding her bit by bit and taking away all the things that let her recover. Like a recycling pond with a plugged drain, she was filling with shit, and sooner or later, she’d overspill. It wasn’t a source of anxiety. It was just something she knew about herself, as if she were thinking about some different woman.
Location 4889

She should have been kinder, wiser, more cunning. She should have been something other than what she was. There had to have been a moment when she could have chosen something different, when all of this could have been stopped. She couldn’t think when it had been.
Location 4897

His expression was almost rueful. That would be a pose, of course. A decision he’d made about how to appear. She hated that, even knowing that, she felt herself hoping he could be reasoned with. Wanting to like him, because then maybe he’d like her. Stockholm syndrome’s first, pale roots. She pushed the gentle impulse away and summoned up her hatred.
Location 4907

It was the nature of bad news to spread, and once it was out, it was out forever.
Location 4925

There were two ways to hide something. Either put it where no one could see it or leave it in plain sight with a thousand others just like it. If the alarm went off in the secure room, that would mean one thing. If a bunch of alarms went off all through the engineering and dock levels, and it was only one, maybe the guards had panicked. It would just be more noise in the chaos. Unremarkable.
Location 5088

Situations like this one, they could see death coming, and it didn’t matter. Death still came.
Location 5306

..., and she waited for the joy to fade before she risked thinking about it again. It was always dangerous when the universe fell down in a pattern where the thing you wanted and the wise path were the same.
Location 5408

There was no way for her to ask. That was the trick of living under the thumb of a dictator. It broke every conversation, even the private ones.
Location 5595

Holden had always been the one who soaked up the fame and celebrity, because for the most part he didn’t notice it. He just kept on being himself, and got vaguely surprised when anyone recognized him.
Location 5749

Some things slipped when you were hiding from authoritarian police squads and trying to topple a conquering army. Linens appeared to be one of those things.
Location 5764

“Alex, I live here,” Naomi said. “I can’t tell you how many times he’s put me here. How many times he’s seen the right thing to do and rushed off to do it without thinking about the price. Without letting me or you or the Roci scare him into being less than his conscience demands. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it. It’s natural to him. Who he is. It’s the only thing about him I’m really angry about.”
Location 5785

“He’s exhausting,” she said. “But we love him.” She sighed. “We do.”
Location 5800

"It’s not I don’t trust, it’s that I don’t trust blind. People are people. Fucked up like we all are, it amazes me when we can even make a sandwich.”

“A man of infinite cynicism,” Naomi said.
Location 5865

If he was going to find something that he could exploit, he had to believe there was good in him, even if he only maintained the illusion for a little while.
Location 5910

"Your empire’s hands look a lot cleaner when you get to dictate where history begins and what parts of it don’t count.”
Location 5959

If there was one thing Laconia’s history taught, it was the power of the right person at the right moment.
Location 6030

The one thing he’d said that stuck with her was, I am a human being. Anything that happens to human beings could happen to me.
Location 6507

Hello, tenant of Buddhism and Stoicism both.

And a though of any thinking person.

"It’d be a better world if there was always at least one right answer instead of a basket of fucked.”
Location 6536

“Don’t worry. These Laconians are just like Earthers. They only think of ships and stations as inside. Comes from growing up in free air.”

“‘The predictable limits of a conceptual framework,’” Bobbie said. A phrase from her classroom on Olympus Mons.
Location 6862

Her heart was pounding. Her muscles ached. She’d just killed two of the enemy. There would always be a little something — that tug on her humanity that came from doing violence. There was a satisfaction too. It didn’t mean she was a good woman or a bad one. It meant she was a Marine.
Location 6900

The green dots shifted, swirling in the display as the ships did in the darkness. A few dove toward the Tempest, moving almost at the same speed as the torpedoes. As gentle as it looked on the display, it was a killing burn. A suicide run for the crews of every ship that did it. More followed suit until dozens of ships were driving down toward the enemy. It was a tactic of unspeakable bravery and desperation.

Drummer didn’t notice that her hands were in fists until the ache caught her attention. She made her fingers open, looked at the little flaps of skin she’d carved off with her nails. The suicide attack reached its peak. It reminded her of pictures she’d seen of cloudbursts over the deserts of Earth. Huge, angry clouds.
Location 6941

“What about evac?” She knew what he meant. If he could blow the reactor, should he? Was the mission more important than living through it?
Location 7370

“You okay?” Naomi asked. Clarissa lifted her hand in the same Schrödinger’s answer she always had, no matter how she expressed it. Always yes, and always no. Yes, I’m fine in that I am not presently in medical collapse. No, having that be what fine meant didn’t ratify her early life choices.
Location 7383

“Thank you. It’s not … what I was expecting.”

“Yeah,” Clarissa said. “It seems like there’s always the way we wanted things to go, and there’s what actually happens.”
Location 7397

“Listen,” Naomi said. “They’re playing our song.”

“Oh my,” Clarissa said, laughing. “We have lived our lives wrong, haven’t we?”
Location 7401

The worst part was that she’d done it to herself. The damage to her body, the wear and the weariness, were all products of conscious, determined choices made by a girl she hadn’t been in decades. She carried the weight of those decisions like a sack of bones. Like a toolbox full of them. Some sins carried their own punishment. Sometimes redemption meant carrying the past with you forever. She’d gotten used to that over the years, but it was still pretty fucking inconvenient.
Location 7460

I teared up at this line.

Yes, so many yeses.

She tried to think what to say that would clarify that, but it was a lot of effort. And what did it matter really if anyone else understood? She knew. Fuck it, she thought. Some things you take to your grave.
Location 7523

The pilot flinched back, shot a look at Davenport. He stared hard at her, like he was looking at his death. Like he was trying to talk himself into being brave and hadn’t quite managed it yet. There was a chance there in the space between who he was and who he was trying to be.
Location 7629

“It’s the reward of old age,” Avasarala said. “You live long enough, and you can watch everything you worked for become irrelevant.”
Location 8000

Freehold was pain. Some days that was a good thing. It gave her something to push against, something to fight. Other days it was just wearying.
Location 8027

"The founding impulse of Freehold is sticking it to the government.”

“Loses some of its shine after you get elected.”
Location 8114

Everything changed, and it went right on changing. A terrible thought when things were good, a comforting one now.
Location 8162

Indeed.

Dark Orbit

Book Notes

This book was recommended on m.b. by Daniel Goldsmith, which is why it ended up on my book list (more so than the Hugo Award nomination, which may say something about my awareness of something or other). It dropped into my reading list quickly (given said nomination, the speed surprised me), so I read it quickly.

The book has this quirk of starting with one character, investing in said character's development, then switching to another character for the duration of the book. The initial character was entertaining, making the relegation to secondary status a bit disappointing.

A main point in the book, however, about how consciousness, the thing that none of us really understand, shapes reality, is far from disappointing. The introduction and exploration of the concept makes this book worth reading, with the science fiction and adventuring parts the icing on the cake. More succinctly, there's a reason for that nomination.

There would be no shortage of volunteers. It was the mysterious power of this driving will to know.
Location 181

Knowledge is our wealth, our honor, our sacrament, Sara thought. It drives us to give up family, home, and place in time for its sake. Would we also sacrifice our lives, like ancient martyrs longing to see the face of God? Is knowledge that sacred to us?
Location 182

Could she betray him? She had always considered herself cheerfully amoral, culturally relative to the bone. Conscience needed to adapt; morality was contextual. Yet she had never had a temptation that really mattered.
Location 215

“Sara, you can’t go around arbitrarily disobeying rules. Some of them are for your own good.”

“I didn’t realize the planet had adopted universal surveillance.”

“It’s the price we pay for a free society."
Location 237

Outsiders derisively called them Wasters, and they called the rest of the human race Plants. For a Waster, time seemed like a mere convention—an arbitrary way of sorting events into a sequence, no more.
...
Over and over, they outlived all they knew. Their homes were torn down between visits, their siblings became their elders, they would meet and strike up friendships with the descendants of people they had known. At every stop, they plunged into new trends, new attitudes, new inventions. They saw governments change, companies rise and fail. Each time they leaped off into the void it was an exercise in faith—faith that the equipment would still be operating to receive them at the other end, that people would still remember, that people would be there at all.
Location 309

This was part of the science fiction part, people space travel by dismantling into component parts and being beamed along a radiation stream to their destination. Said beam travels the speed of light, which makes a fifty light year trip take, well, fifty years.

They wanted to rest in one place for a while. But even that was hard. What did a Waster have to say to people who had never seen by the light of another star, who had existed in a single sequential time frame? To Plants, their own time, their own place, was of universal importance. Sara sometimes thought that planetary gravity warped the imagination, bent perspective till the horizon was uncomfortably close, and everyone had a uniform myopia.
Location 315

For others, time passed. For a Waster, it was always just now.
Location 318

Everyone knew that Balavatis were rebels who loved to undermine all hierarchy, and Ashok fit the description: he was fascinated with authority and all its susceptibilities. What people didn’t know was that, to undermine hierarchy in truly creative ways, you have to understand it extremely well. The exercise of power was something Ashok absolutely rejected for himself, but analyzing it in others filled him with evil glee. His dilemma, of course, was that to study authority, he had to leave it strictly alone.
Location 340

“What kind of word is ‘methodal’?” David asked.

“A buzzword,” Ashok answered, this time himself.

“Methodal. Sounds like a drug.”

“That’s what buzzwords are. Tranquilizers.”

“Thought suppressants, you mean.”
Location 403

I need to record this now, while it is still fresh in my mind. Eyewitness accounts are unreliable, because the senses are unreliable, but memory plays havoc even with the shards of truth that come through to us untouched.
Location 553

“You want to meditate on the unknowable. Well, science denies there is anything that can’t be known. Only religion revels in mystery, in order to reserve a place for God.”

“It is unscientific, wouldn’t you say, to deny that there are things we don’t know?”
Location 693

“It doesn’t matter. Here we are on a new planet—none of us has any past here. We can all start over from scratch.”

If only that were true, Sara thought. We packed our past in our baggage. We always do.
Location 876

The woman rarely spoke about the ship, or events of the day, or other people, the types of things that filled Sara’s life. Instead, the audio diary was internally focused. Dreams, musings, memories, and speculations filled Thora’s journal. She was torturously self-aware, always critiquing herself, analyzing her own motives. The slightest event led to endless echoes of self-examination: why did I act so? why did I think of acting another way? did I want some other outcome, or am I content? if I had acted otherwise, what would that have reflected about me? was there some better way I could have acted? what do I mean by “better?”—and on and on, to a paralysis of introspection. It was a miracle that the woman could stir from bed, Sara thought.
Location 1142

It was entirely foreign to Sara’s own method of living. Her mind had never struck her as a terribly promising research topic. It was an uncomplicated affair, motivated mainly by the twin desires to escape boredom and not to get caught doing the things that prevented boredom. She preferred to barrel forward through her day, collecting new experiences, regardless of their impact on her character. Living as Thora did, in a world of her own thoughts, would have been like prison.
Location 1147

I have to acknowledge that I may not escape. This is not despair speaking; it is anger. To die this way seems so random, so trivial. I have been robbed of meaning before being robbed of life. To die in darkness, alone—for what purpose was I ever alive? It is as if I emerged from darkness into delusion, then sank back into darkness forever.
Location 1417

Exoethnologists were after cultural resources—new knowledge and new ideas, the ultimate source of all profit. They took advantage of the fact that, in both biology and culture, isolation created diversity. In a closed information system, divergence took place, and the more different the system became, the more valuable it was. But when the isolation was broken, cultures were like thermodynamic systems—uniformity quickly resulted. There was always a short window of opportunity to document and save the precious information before it was hopelessly contaminated by adaptation. Biologists’ window of opportunity was longer. Culture could change with blinding rapidity.
Location 1939

“We’re all inadequate,” David answered. “Just think: the light from the outside world is mapped onto the retina, then further mapped onto the visual cortex, then broken apart and analyzed in other areas of the brain. At every step there’s a loss of information. In the end, what we are aware of is not the outside world per se, but the image of the world projected onto our brains. Plato was anatomically right; we do see shadows on a wall.”
Location 2112

“The Three wish to treat with the stranger.” My interview with the authorities, I assumed.

“Who are the Three?” I asked Hanna.

“The old ladies—Songta, Rinka, and Anath.”

“Are they in charge?”

“Only when we let them be. I will go with thee.”
Location 2241

She had a stormy side to her personality, and a low tolerance for failure.
Location 2662

My estimation of Songta went up, to think that she was the one who had been beminding him all these years. He would not be the man he was without her. It was one of those mysterious marriages where the partners co-create one another.
Location 4580

The Accountant's Story

Book Notes

Okay, this is another case of a "dropped" book. Doron commented to me, "I'm reading this book now," to which I responded, "Oh, you are? Let me check it out from the library and read it, too," and here we are.

Except I read it faster than he did, finishing when he was a couple chapters in, and, well, okay, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this, but it was an exciting read.

So, there's this guy, Pablo Escobar. You might have heard of him. I, for my part, was incredibly oblivious to much of the world around the time of Escobar's rise, domination, and fall, so while I was vaguely aware of his existence, I wasn't aware of his story.

Well, now I am.

This is the story of Pablo Escobar, as told by his older brother, Roberto. It is a fascinating story somewhat tarnished by Roberto's bit of whining "we didn't do anything illegal!" in various parts of the book. Okay, sure, doing the accounting for a cocaine cartel wasn't illegal, the whole operation wasn't exactly moral or legal. Neither was cooking the books to make the drug money appear to be real estate deals. So, while the history is fascinating, the near pleading "I didn't do anything wrong" was difficult to read non-judgmentally.

If you like non-fiction, and want an interesting recent-history read, this book is a good choice. If you're a fan of this genre, this is also a good choice. If you're more like me, and read it because you wanted to talk with a friend about the book he was reading, this is also a good book to read. I would not have chosen this book for myself, but still enjoyed the reading of it.

The point he emphasized so many times was that the growing legend of Pablo Escobar was used by other groups to service their own needs, from the traffickers of Cali who were ignored while the focus remained on Pablo Escobar, to the various factions within the government who used the shadows that covered the search for him to settle old feuds and destroy growing opposition, and even by those men who once had worked for him and after being arrested provided information that would reduce their own sentences. It was easy for everyone to blame all the violence, all the killings, on Pablo Escobar.
Location 85

Our country has always been ruled by a class of wealthy families that did very little to help the poor. There were very few social programs that assisted people in making their lives better. We have a system of laws in Colombia, but we lived by a different set of rules. From the time we were growing up the government was run by corrupt people who made themselves richer while claiming they were starting programs to help the less fortunate live a better life.
Location 334

Legends are built in many ways, but part of such legends consists of accusations made by enemies, and often for their own benefit.
Location 372

The business of contraband means simply bringing goods into the country without paying the required government fees, the duties and taxes, which allows you to sell the goods to people for much less money than they would have to pay in the stores. It’s very profitable. While contraband certainly is illegal, because it benefits people and hurts only the government, it has long been an accepted part of the Colombian economy.
Location 376

Once cocaine had been widely and freely used in America. A small amount was part of the original Coca-Cola and some cigarettes; it could be bought in drugstores. The first laws were passed against it in America in 1914, when people were told it made black people in the South crazy and caused them to attack white women.
Location 477

Almost from the very first day Pablo knew he had to pay big bribes, just like in the contraband business. Pablo was generous with these payments, he wanted to make it so rewarding for people that they would never betray him.
Location 733

We also knew that the kidnappers were calling our mother’s home from public phones. So Pablo gave out hundreds of radio transmitters to our friends and workers and instructed them to listen to a well-known radio station. Every time the kidnappers called my mother’s home the announcer on the station said, “This song is dedicated to Luz Marina [a code name that was used]; it’s called ‘Sonaron Cuatro Balazos’ and is sung by Antonio Aguilar,” those people were to check nearby pay phones to see if they were being used.
Location 866

When the rivers rose during the winter there were many floods and Pablo and Jaime would go around our country replacing everything washed away by the waters, bringing mattresses, cooking utensils, furniture, and the things people needed for living. And then they would bring engineers to find ways to prevent more flooding. Pablo would supply the materials to the villagers so they could help reconstruct the affected areas.
Location 1270

Under the law of my country, our president must give several cabinet posts to members of the opposition parties.
Location 1543

I find this idea appealing.

There was a new method of assassination that was becoming common in Colombia. It was to become known as parrillero: A man with a machine gun riding on the back of a motorcycle sprayed his victim—usually in a cart—with bullets. The safety helmets gave the assassins a good disguise and the bike provided the best way of escape after the shooting. Eventually this method became so common in Colombia that the government passed a law against people on motorcycles wearing helmets, so they could be identified.
Location 1636

It was one of these colonels who informed Pablo that Noriega had said that he was going to speak with the North American government, especially to the DEA.
Location 1745

To watch your family suffering and not be able to stop that is the most terrible feeling. And I was a fugitive without committing any crimes: I was pursued by Belisario Betancur’s government just for being Pablo’s brother.
Location 1757

An example of an "ehhhhhhhh, I don't quite believe you there" moment.

The secret police death squads would go in black cars into the poor neighborhoods, the barrios, at night. Most regular people would stay off the streets after work, so the police decided anyone on the corner was a bad guy, and that they worked for Pablo. Their secret squads with machine guns would drive around shooting young people for just standing on the corner, or they would take them away and later people would find their bodies. This was every night.
Location 2037

The impossible thing to know about the police was whether they were working honestly or in the kidnap business. Or worse, if they were people just pretending to be police. There was no way of knowing.
Location 2491

I don't know how the people of the U.S. would react to something like this.

I suspect some people in the U.S. already experience this.

In your mind part of you is always the person you used to be. For me, that was the bicycle champion. If I had paused to think about the journey I’d taken it would have been impossible; from representing the country I loved in the sport I loved to running through the jungle as police helicopters fired tracer bullets down on me. So I didn’t think about it. I know that it seems difficult to understand, but it is true. Maybe that was my means of dealing with my reality.
Location 2623

"I saw this person who had been so powerful, so rich, who had always been surrounded by people, so all alone. I had tears.”
Location 3844

Marked

Book Notes

I'm a big Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka fan. I found the books on the recommendation of Jim Butcher on some tweet years and years ago, and have been enjoying the Verus series, reading each one pretty much as soon as it is published. I appreciate that Jacka delivers his books very regularly, which means I'm not waiting for a series to continue as the world is with Harry Dresden and the Song of Ice and Fire and the Kingkiller Chronicle (which I am now convinced Rothfuss doesn't know HOW to finish, so he won't) and whatever else books have the author off on a different tangent because that's what interests them at this time and oh, wow, do I appreciate Jacka.

Anyway.

I enjoyed this book. I have enjoyed this series. Two chapters into this book and I realized that reading it felt like coming home in a way, the comfort level of the world that has been developed, my connection with said world and the characters in the world, and the writing style of the author. The Dresden Files does this, too. As did Connolly's Twenty Palaces series.

And I just realized I seem to have a thing for white male author, urban fantasy fiction.

Sigh.

Good thing I'm on a non-fiction kick this year. Go me.

The book was a fun read. If you haven't started on the Verus, start with book one, which is Fated (the naming of which reminds me to add it to my "I have read, but I don't recall when or any of the plot, but I know I've read it" list). Once you're done with those, head over to the Dresden series. And keep reading.

There’s a rhythm to battle, a cadence, almost like a dance. Every move has its counter, every strike its timing. Once you understand it, it doesn’t feel as though you’re attacking at all: you just do what’s natural.
Page 8

Some of the younger men in his profession, the ones who have something to prove, will ignore warnings like that. The ones who survive to Little’s age don’t.
Page 10

“However, justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done."
Page 27

“None of the tests were able to find anything,” I said. “But not finding anything doesn’t mean there’s nothing there."
Page 43

"It’s a matter of personality, not what you feel you need, and you simply don’t have enough of a desire to dominate and control.”
Page 48

Yeah. I understand this.

“Everyone has aggressive impulses,” Dr. Shirland said. “They’re a fundamental part of the human condition. If you meet someone who seems not to have any, they’re channelling them somewhere else or keeping them suppressed. Usually, in the latter case, it ends up turning inward and manifesting as depression."
Page 55

"She’s been a little too isolated lately and I don’t think leaving her alone with the contents of her own head for company is a good thing.”
Page 56

I know a few people that this could be applied to, too.

I’ve never lived a safe life and I’ve always accepted that, but it’s one thing to know that there’s a good chance you’re going to die a violent death, and it’s something else to know that it might be someone else doing the dying in your place.
Page 59

"Sure, they’ll offer you protection — as long as you do as you’re told. But as soon as you stop, they’ll make a point of targeting you, just to send the message of what happens to other people who don’t get in line. It’s not getting into those sort of groups that’s the problem, it’s getting out.”
Page 64

You build an army because you’re planning to fight someone.
Page 66

... and the less we knew and trusted each other, the more “harder” shaded into “impossible.”
Page 69

... one of the more useful concepts I’d picked up was the Eisenhower Matrix, a method of ordering tasks by importance and urgency. The idea is that you file every task into one of four quadrants: important and urgent; not important but urgent; important but not urgent; and neither important nor urgent. Depending on which of those four a task is in, you do it, delegate it, schedule it, or ignore it.
Page 74

Rulers don’t like turning on their own if they can avoid it. It gives the common folk ideas.
Page 82

"... If there’s one thing the Council can agree on, it’s that their power and privileges shouldn’t go to anyone else.”
Page 92

“Resentment is an unproductive emotion,” Morden said.
Page 97

I judged him to have potential. Unfortunately power can be a discouragement to growth, and he’s had difficulty adapting.
Page 97

There was another pause. There’s a lot of waiting in battles: when one wrong move can get you maimed or killed, people are understandably reluctant to make hasty decisions.
Page 110

It hadn’t been my fight... but then, that’s how people like Pyre always keep getting away with it, isn’t it? The ones who can stop them won’t, and the ones who want to stop them can’t.
Page 117

“He’s a psycho, but he’s a rational psycho,” Kyle said. “If you can give him a good reason not to attack you, he won’t.
Page 120

“The number one rule when you’re dealing with Dark mages is that you have to negotiate from a position of strength,” I said. “The worst thing you can do is make them think you’re weak. If I don’t have the authority to settle terms, then in their eyes, that automatically makes me weak. And by implication, that makes you weak.”
Page 124

“Don’t people always think that every long-lived institution is immortal right up until the point where it falls apart?”
Page 172

Dragons can tell you your future, after a fashion. But I’ve never known whether they tell you what’s going to happen, or whether hearing it from them is what causes it to happen.
Page 177

Vari’s answer was that everyone has a reason. And when I thought about it, he was right. It’s not like anyone just wakes up one morning and thinks, ‘Hey, you know what, I feel like being a bad guy today.’ Everyone’s got some way to justify what they do. They’ll say that the other guy’s an asshole, or they don’t have any choice, or it’s not like it matters, or it’s just the way the world works, whatever. The point is, knowing why someone’s after you doesn’t really help.
Page 252

I couldn’t change what I’d done. But I could learn from my mistakes.
Page 309

Dread Nation

Book Notes

I had this book in my hold queue for a long time before I released it and it dropped into my read queue. I'm fairly certain it was on a Book Riot young adult book, but it has zombies in it, so, yeah, I read it.

This was a very fun read. The premise is that a zombie epidemic starts sometime during the Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days in our timeline, a different amount in the America of Dread Nation. The Civil War ended as the living now united against the dead. Except the attitudes and idiocy of the times didn't change, the slave owners still believed the slaves weren't people, still believed they were somehow entitled to subjugate another person, still believed in their own collective superiority. In this world, the ex-slaves and Native Americans were forced into combat schools, where they were trained to kill the dead.

Of course. Because once you have entitlement, you can't not have that entitlement until said entitle-ees are dead (typically of old age, tbh).

ANYWAY.

This was a fun read. Ireland portrays the prejudices well, gives us a heroine we can root for (root for, verb, informal, support or hope for the success of (a person or group entering a contest or undertaking a challenge): the whole of this club is rooting for him), and creates action and mystery at the same time. The letters to and from the heroine and her mother are heartbreaking in a way, but further the plot in a good way.

If you're into zombie fiction, this is a good book to pick up. If you're not into zombie fiction, you might still enjoy the heroine's sass, the book is worth reading.

“What happened then?” I asked, because there’s nothing better than the memories of others when you’re little and have no stories of your own.
Location 75

I’ve heard enough political speeches to know that letting rich white city folk think that we’ve made even a small part of America safe again is a better stump speech than telling them that we’re still in trouble five years after the Army stopped fighting the dead.
Location 182

Momma used to tell me, “Deny it until they’ve got you dead to rights, sugar. If they can’t prove it, it never happened.” It’s good advice, and it’s served me well.
Location 240

But that’s the way life goes most of the time: the thing you least count on comes along and ruins everything else you got planned.
Location 341

The boy had always been a bully, and the thing about bullies is they never learn how to run like the rest of us do.
Location 492

In my head the ideas are so clear and make perfect sense, but when the words come out they’re a mess.
Location 534

I shrug. “Sometimes you have to live down to people’s expectations, Kate. If you can do that, you’ll get much further in life.
Location 679

That last bit is a lie, but the easiest lie to tell is the one people want to believe.
Location 879

But when you think of shamblers as things, as mindless creatures who have to be put down so that we might live, ending them gets to be a lot easier. The farmer doesn’t cry over slaughtering a hog.
Location 891

“Jane, your point is well taken, but heroism means little when it rests on lawlessness."
Location 982

Yeah, what? No.

Miss Preston was convinced that the best way to correct minor misconduct was a little drudgery, and housework was the pinnacle of drudge.
Location 997

This amused me.

Still, the thought of them together is enough to make me more than a little stabby. Jealousy is a terrible thing, and I swallow the emotion down hard as I can.
Location 1083

That’s the way it is when you fancy someone. Your heart starts doing the thinking, and your brain? Well, it gets left out of the equation until too late.
nnnnnLocation 1086

There was a big scary world beyond the boundaries of Rose Hill. I was bold, but not so foolhardy as to think there was something worthwhile on the other side of the barrier fence that kept the dead out.
Location 1106

And if folks could overlook the rumors of a white woman birthing a Negro, well, they could forgive just about anything, couldn’t they?
Location 1468

In Rachel’s mind, every ill that befell her was the work of someone else.
Location 1473

One of the other aunties, Auntie Eliza, once told me it was because Rachel was the major’s favorite before he went to war, and she liked the easy life he gave her. Rachel had adjusted to being owned, to being property, and she didn’t like the new situation, where she wasn’t nothing but a house servant with wages, a servant that had to work just as hard as everyone else.
Location 1480

“Surviving can make people right mean,” Auntie Aggie told me.
Location 1491

It’s a question I’ve refused to ask myself. I don’t want to think about what it would do to my world if Momma is dead.
Location 1685

I get an uncomfortable feeling like I’m sliding backward down a slope into a deep hole that I dug my own self.
Location 1739

"... That’s how men like the mayor maintained control. You believe strongly enough in an idea, nothing else much matters.”
Location 2005

I reckon we all have our childhood scars, whether we wear them on the outside or not.
Location 2172

“Look at you, with those pretty manners. Wherever did they find you?”

“At the junction of hard luck and bad times,” I answer. It’s something that my momma says.
Location 2438

But that means backing down from Cora, and I’ve seen her kind. She’ll do everything the people in charge tell her to, even if that means she ends up broken and bloody. She’s one of those people that never learned to breathe, never understood the true meaning of freedom. She’s a dog, happy even with a cruel master. She eats her three squares and takes her bit of pocket change and happily wears the collar around her throat, because that’s enough for her. But it ain’t for me.
Location 2931

"... I ain’t never going down there again if I can help it. But if you want answers, that’s where they are.”
Location 3154

A bark of laughter escapes from her. “Here you are flayed within an inch of your life and you’re asking after me.”

I sigh. “Sometimes it’s easier to think about other folks’ small hurts than your big ones.”
Location 3396

“You shouldn’t jump to conclusions about people, Mr. Gideon. I contain multitudes.”
Location 3455

I laughed at this one, well, because.

But I can’t change the past; I can only push headlong into an uncertain future. “Kate,”
Location 3909

Momma used to say there were lots of ways to survive. Don’t be afraid to pretend to be something you aren’t, Jane. Sometimes a little subterfuge and chicanery is in order and the quickest way to achieve one’s goal. It ain’t hard to imagine Ida pretending to be just another dumb colored girl in order to make it out here. Survival by any means necessary.
Location 3976

I’ve learned a lot in the past few years. Including that a group of panicked people ain’t that different from a herd of sheep. Nip at their heels a little and they’ll go wherever you tell them to.
Location 4060

Here’s a thing about me: I regret most of my actions five minutes after the fact. I’m rash in my decisions and I spend half my time trying to extricate myself from situations of my own making.
Location 4183

Alan’s jaw tightens and he looks straight ahead. “It was mostly the colored folks that fought the shamblers. No surprise there. Government pays to send them to those fancy schools while real men like me are left to fend for ourselves.”
Location 4333

So, in this story, Alan is a white guy. He believe that forced slavery of black people into killing zombies, which included forcing them into a re-education system which enabled them to be effective at killing zombies, was "fancy schools."

The unfortunate thing about this particular quote and thinking is that it is just_so_true. It's like Louis complaining he has to pay taxes, but he drives on the roads those taxes paid for. His kids go to the schools those taxes paid for. His devices use the GPS information that those taxes paid for. But, no, he complains and complains and complains and says everyone else has it better.

“It matters not, my dear. It is God’s wrath for our sins.” The sheriff lights his cigarette and looks out at the horizon. “The dead never walked until brother fought brother. Until we penitent folk betrayed one another.”
Location 4375

I wouldn't be surprised if this happened, too, in a zombie outbreak. It's about power and control in a fear-laden world.

I didn’t like the big girl, I ain’t never been a fan of snitches, but turning shambler is not a fate I’d wish on anyone, not even the girl who got me whipped.
Location 4394

Well, except for the guy she was planning on killing. Not the point.

“See, the problem in this world ain’t sinners, or even the dead. It is men who will step on anyone who stands in the way of their pursuit of power."
Location 4586

I Contain Multitudes

Book Notes

This is the next book in the Caltech book club. I, admittedly, skipped over the biological sciences when I was at Caltech, and that skipping is one of my regrets about my time at Caltech: I came in with these just plain wrong notions about science. Those ideas adversely affected my education, but, fortunately, not my love for science in all its (correctly science) forms.

Anyway.

I read this book, finishing before the first week's discussion, mostly because I keep checking these books out from the library, with due dates much sooner than the slower 1-2 chapters a week pace the book club has. Which is fine, I read the book club books quickly. That I subsequently don't participate in the book club discussions is less fine, I guess.

This book was a meandering survey of various studies, current research, and microbe history. I say meandering because the book lacked a compelling narrative arc. I was expecting maybe a history arc, or a current research arc, or even the author's journey arc. Instead, the end of each chapter lead into the beginning of the next chapter, with each chapter a swirl of interesting information and sometimes a self-contained narrative. Mostly though, each chapter was a fascinating, meandering discussion of a new topic about microbes.

And by fascinating, I mean fascinating. My incoming supposition was, given how much influence chemicals have over our mental state and body composition, the idea that microbes could and do produce chemicals to induce a state in their host doesn't seem so farfetched. After reading the book, learning about how much we know about microbes, and seeing how much we don't know about microbes, my supposition is more like a fixed assumption in my world. One of those "but, of course" obvious things only after the fact.

I enjoyed reading the book. This book is very much worth reading.

Now we’ve seen that they can sway the brain too – the organ that, more than any other, makes us who we are. It is a disquieting thought. We put such a premium on our free will that the prospect of losing independence to unseen forces informs many of our deepest societal fears.
Page 71

Wolbachia can only pass to the next generation of hosts in eggs; sperm are too small to contain it. Females are its ticket to the future; males are an evolutionary dead end. So it has evolved many ways of screwing over male hosts to expand its pool of female ones. It kills them, as in Hurst’s butterflies. It feminises them, as in Rigaud’s woodlice. It eliminates the need for them entirely by allowing females to reproduce asexually, as in Stouthamer’s wasps. None of these manipulations is unique to Wolbachia, but it is the only bacterium to use them all.
Page 78

Huh. So, gay woodlice.

Here is a strange but critical sentiment to introduce in a book about the benefits of living with microbes: there is no such thing as a “good microbe” or a “bad microbe”. These terms belong in children’s stories. They are ill- suited for describing the messy, fractious, contextual relationships of the natural world.
Page 80

A cut or a bruise can split some of your cells apart and spill fragments of mitochondria into your blood – fragments that still keep some of their ancient bacterial character. When your immune system spots them, it mistakenly assumes that an infection is under way and mounts a strong defence. If the injury is severe, and enough mitochondria are released, the resulting body-wide inflammation can build into a lethal condition called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). SIRS can be worse than the original injury.
Page 81

Some of these molecules get saddled with negative names, like “virulence factors”, because they were first discovered in the context of disease, but they are inherently neutral. They are just tools, like computers, pens, and knives: they can be used to do wonderful things and terrible things.
Page 82

Couples might work well together, but if one partner can get the same benefits without spending as much energy or effort, it will do so unless punished or policed.
Page 83

Well, this one hit home pretty hard.

These principles are easy to forget. We like our black-and-white narratives, with clear heroes and villains.
Page 84

We do. Some of us more than others.

A well-functioning partnership could easily be seen as a case of reciprocal exploitation. “Both partners may benefit but there’s this inherent tension. Symbiosis is conflict – conflict that can never be totally resolved.”
Page 85

To allow our first microbes to colonise our newborn bodies, a special class of immune cells suppresses the rest of the body’s defensive ensemble, which is why babies are vulnerable to infections for their first six months of life. It’s not because their immune system is immature, as is commonly believed: it’s because it is deliberately stifled to give microbes a free-for-all window during which they can establish themselves. But without the immune system’s full selective powers, how can a mammalian baby ensure that it gets the right communities?
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I find this fascinating.

As humans make our presence felt, we disturb the ancient relationships between corals and their microbes, converting the vivid splendour of fish-filled reefs into bleak algal barrens submerged in a pathogenic soup.
Page 109

And I find this depressing.

... a Grand Unified Theory of Coral Death. It shows how the largest sharks are connected to the smallest viruses.
Page 110

The most obvious difference lay in the ratio of the two major groups of gut bacteria: obese people had more Firmicutes and fewer Bacteroidetes than their leaner counterparts.
Page 114

An important lesson emerged: microbes matter but so do we, their hosts. Our guts, like all ecosystems, aren’t defined just by the species within them but also by the nutrients that flow through them.
Page 116

Herbert “Skip” Virgin published a case study that beautifully supports this idea. He worked with mice that had a genetic mutation common in people with Crohn’s disease. Those rodents developed inflamed guts, but only if they were infected by a virus that knocked out part of their immune system, and were exposed to an inflammatory toxin, and had a normal set of gut bacteria. If any of these triggers was missing, the mice stayed healthy.
Page 120

Dogs carry microbes from the outdoors to the indoors, offering us a bigger library of species with which to populate our developing microbiomes. When Lynch fed these dog-associated dust microbes to mice, she found that the rodents became less sensitive to various allergens.
Page 122

Nonetheless, Burkitt was on the right track. “America is a constipated nation,” he said, indelicately. “If you pass small stools, you have big hospitals.”
Page 124

Scientists will talk about Occam’s razor – the principle that favours simple, elegant explanations over convoluted ones. I think the truth is that scientists, like everyone else, find simple explanations psychologically soothing.
Page 134

Still, they provide more questions than answers. Did the microbes set symptoms in motion or just make a bad situation worse? Was one species responsible, or a group of them? Is it the presence of certain microbes that matters, or the absence of others, or both?
Page 135

But if you looked at these communities in isolation you might conclude that their owners were on the verge of chronic disease, when they were merely on the verge of motherhood.
Page 136

Ecosystems are complex, varied, ever-changing and context-dependent – qualities that are the enemies of easy categorisation.
Page 136

Hello, systems thinking!

So, mammalian success was founded on vegetarianism, and that vegetarianism was founded on microbes. Time and again, different groups of mammals swallowed plant-breaking microbes from their environments, and used their enzymes to mount assaults on leaves, shoots, stems, and twigs.
Page 177

The macrotermites there build enormous mounds. Some can tower for up to 9 metres, scraping the skies with Gothic ensembles of spires and buttresses. The oldest one on record – now abandoned – is 2,200 years old.
Page 180

I want to see one of these mounds now.

Bacteria offer an alternative. They are masters of biochemistry, and can degrade everything from heavy metals to crude oil.
Page 183

Beetle outbreaks come and go but the current one, fuelled by a warming climate, is ten times bigger than any other. Since 1999, the beetles and their attendant fungi have killed more than half the mature pines in British Columbia and affect 3.8 million acres in the United States. They have even hopped over the cold Canadian Rockies, which long fenced them into the west coast, and are now spreading east. A continuous belt of lush vulnerable forests lies in front of them.
Page 187

You can see this on any drive in any West Coast state.

Hornets, hawks, and humans might gradually accumulate beneficial mutations, but that individual hornet, or this specific hawk, or those particular humans can’t pick up beneficial genes for themselves. Except sometimes, they can. They could swap their symbionts, instantly acquiring a new package of microbial genes. They can bring new bacteria into contact with those in their bodies, so that foreign genes migrate into their microbiome, imbuing their native microbes with new abilities.
Page 193

The genes they left behind, these ghosts of symbionts past, aren’t sitting idly among the mealybug’s DNA. Some make amino acids.
Page 202

Whatever the case, it is clear that an insect, a bacterium, and a virus have formed an evolutionary alliance against a parasitic wasp that threatens them all.
Page 205

Which is really, really cool.

This point is worth repeating: taking any fast or instant evolutionary shifts as a refutation of the slow, gradual changes we associate with Darwin’s vision is a fatal mistake because these quick shifts are still powered by gradualism.
Page 207

That is the power of symbiosis: it allows gradual mutations in microbes to produce instant mutations in hosts. We can let bacteria do the slow work for us, and then quickly change ourselves by associating with them. And if these alliances are beneficial enough, they can spread with blinding speed.
Page 208

When the parasite arrived, it spread like wildfire, riding through the forests in the bodies of its sterilised hosts. The flies needed a countermeasure and Spiroplasma rose to the occasion. It restored its hosts’ ability to reproduce, and allowed them to outcompete their sterile peers. Since the flies could pass these little saviours to their offspring, the proportion of infected insects grew with each generation. And Jaenike had caught this spread at exactly the right moment. “It made me doubt my sanity,” he says. “What are the chances?”
Page 209

Say goodbye to dated and dangerous war metaphors, in which we are soldiers hell-bent on eradicating germs at whatever cost. Say hello to a gentler and more nuanced gardening metaphor. Yes, we still have to pull out the weeds, but we also seed and feed the species that bind the soil, freshen the air, and please the eye. This concept can be hard to grasp, and not just because the idea of beneficial microbes is new to many.
Page 215

To control a microbiome is to sculpt an entire world – which is as hard as it sounds. Remember that communities have a natural resilience: if you hit them, they bounce back. They are also unpredictable; if you tweak them, the consequences ripple outwards in capricious ways. Add a supposedly beneficial microbe, and it might displace competitors that we also rely on. Lose a supposedly harmful microbe, and an even worse opportunist might rise to take its place.
Page 216

These emerging infectious diseases of wildlife are emerging ever more quickly, and humans are at least partly to blame. On planes, boats, and boots, we carry pathogens around the world with unprecedented speed, overwhelming new hosts before they can acclimatise and adapt.
Page 217

Yet despite the excessive hype, the concept behind probiotics is still sound. Given all the important roles that bacteria play in our bodies, it should be possible to improve our health by swallowing or applying the right microbes. It’s just that the strains in current use may not be the right ones. They make up just a tiny fraction of the microbes that live with us, and their abilities represent a thin slice of what the microbiome is fully capable of. We met more suitable microbes in earlier chapters. There’s the mucus-loving bacterium, Akkermansia muciniphila, whose presence correlates with a lower risk of obesity and malnutrition. There’s Bacteroides fragilis, which stokes the anti-inflammatory side of the immune system. There’s Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, another anti-inflammatory bug, which is conspicuously rare in the guts of people with IBD, and whose arrival can reverse the symptoms of that disease in mice.
Page 224

We have already seen that what we eat can substantially change the microbes in our gut, and prebiotics like inulin are in plentiful supply in onions, garlic, artichokes, chicory, bananas and other foods.
Page 227

Jim Collins is more circumspect. Given how much we still don’t understand about the microbiome, he is unsettled by the prospect of engineering microbes that can permanently establish themselves in our bodies. That’s why he is also focusing on building kill-switches that will force the microbes to self-destruct if something goes wrong, or if they leave their hosts.
Page 240

Or that so many scientists would study it that they would organise a bi-annual, Wolbachia-devoted conference to share their results?
Page 250

Of course they would! Humans love their communities, we are social creatures.

I contain multitudes, yes, but only some of them; the rest, I extend into the world like a living aura.
Page 252

We all have our cloud of microbes! I love this!

Within 24 hours of moving into a new place we overwrite it with our own microbes, turning it into a reflection of ourselves.

We also change the microbes of our housemates. Gilbert’s team found that room-mates share more microbes than people who live apart, and couples are even more microbially similar.
Page 252

In both settings, sterility is a curse not a goal, and a diverse ecosystem is better than an impoverished one.
Page 255

In the developing world, around 5 to 10 per cent of people who check into hospitals and other healthcare institutions pick up some kind of infection during their stay, falling ill in the very places that are meant to make them healthier. In the United States alone, this means around 1.7 million infections and 90,000 deaths a year.
Page 256

By removing harmless bacteria that would otherwise impede the growth of pathogens, perhaps we have inadvertently constructed a more dangerous ecosystem.
Page 257

Gibbons showed this by studying public toilets. He found that thoroughly scrubbed toilets are first colonised by faecal microbes, which are launched into the air by roiling, flushed water. Those species are eventually outcompeted by a diverse range of skin microbes, but once the toilet gets scrubbed again, the communities go back to square one. So, here’s the irony: toilets that are cleaned too often are more likely to be covered in faecal bacteria.

Jessica Green, an Oregon-based engineer-turned-ecologist, found a similar pattern among the microbes that float inside air-conditioned hospital rooms.7 “I assumed that the microbial community of the indoor air would be a subset of that of outdoor air,” she says. “It really surprised me that we saw little to no overlap between the two.” Outdoors, the air was full of harmless microbes from plants and soils. Indoors, it contained a disproportionate number of potential pathogens, which are normally rare or absent in the outside world, but had been launched from the mouths and skins of hospital residents. The patients were effectively stewing in their own microbial juices. And the best way of fixing that was remarkably simple: open a window.
Page 257

And I see, in the driver’s seat, a guy who notices those rivers of microscopic life and is enthralled rather than repelled by them. He knows that microbes are mostly not to be feared or destroyed, but to be cherished, admired, and studied.
Page 263

We see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are. We see how they sculpt our organs, protect us from poisons and disease, break down our food, uphold our health, calibrate our immune system, guide our behaviour, and bombard our genomes with their genes.
Page 264

A bacterium in your gut might be able to transfer its genes into one of your intestinal cells, but once that cell dies, the bacterial DNA goes with it. The gene might become part of a human genome, but never the human genome.

In 2013, Dunning-Hotopp showed that these short-lived unions are surprisingly common (Riley et al., 2013). She analysed hundreds of human genomes that had been sequenced from body cells – the ones from kidneys or skin or livers, none of which get passed on to offspring. She found traces of bacterial DNA in around a third of them. They were especially common in cancer cells; an intriguing result with unclear implications. It might be that tumours are especially prone to genetic intrusions, or that bacterial genes help to transform healthy cells into cancerous ones.
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The Art of Stillness

Book Notes

Written by the same author as The Lady and the Monk, this book was the subject of a "weekend reading" post. Given its author, I chose to download the book from the library (my being fortunate that it was available), and read it.

It's another essay book, which means it's a quick read, but it is none-the-less interesting, thought-provoking, necessary, and worth reading.

Iyer writes about "going Nowhere," about just being, and about stillness. The book has a companion TED-something video.

After The Lady and the Monk, I'm a fan of Iyer's style of writing, his voice in the writing, so I willingly read the book. I'm glad I did. The timing of it into my life was perfect - just as I needed to settle, to be still, this book and Iyer's words were with me.

I strongly recommend this book.

“What else would I be doing?” he asked. “Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.”
Page 3

One could start just by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves one rise to the surface.
Page 5

One could even, as Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and one is reminded, at a level deeper than all words, how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.
Page 5

For all the daily excitement, however, something inside me felt that I was racing around so much that I never had a chance to see where I was going, or to check whether I was truly happy.
Page 11

Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.
Page 13

As America’s wisest psychologist, William James, reminded us, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Page 13

Movement makes richest sense when set within a frame of stillness.
Page 15

Heaven is the place where you think of nowhere else.
Page 15

No one I’d met could better explain, for example, how getting caught up in the world and expecting to find happiness there made about as much sense as reaching into a fire and hoping not to get burned.
Page 24

Clouds and blue sky, of course, are how Buddhists explain the nature of our mind: there may be clouds passing across it, but that doesn’t mean a blue sky isn’t always there behind the obscurations. All you need is the patience to sit still until the blue shows up again.
Page 26

This is what your mind — your life — looks like when you’re going nowhere. Always full of new colors, sights, and beauties; always, more or less, unaltered.
Page 30

Whenever I travel to North Korea or Yemen—to any of the world’s closed or impoverished places—I see how almost anyone born to them would long to be anywhere else, and to visit other countries with the freedom that some of the rest of us enjoy.
Page 31

Nowhere can be scary, even if it’s a destination you’ve chosen; there’s nowhere to hide there.
Page 32

A life of stillness can sometimes lead not to art but to doubt or dereliction; anyone who longs to see the light is signing on for many long nights alone in the dark.
Page 32

One of the laws of sitting still, in fact, is that “if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or, worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced.”
Page 33

You don’t get over the shadows inside you simply by walking away from them.
Page 40

The one thing technology doesn’t provide us with is a sense of how to make the best use of technology. Put another way, the ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is now far less important than the ability to sift through it.
Page 42

The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; it’s the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape.
Page 53

Stillness has nothing to do with settledness or stasis.
Page 61

“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life,” Thomas Merton, one of its sovereign explorers, pointed out, “is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life solves them for you.”
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In progress notes:

Cheri on MB started reading this book on 7/7

Cohen ended up sitting still with his elderly friend for more than forty years.
Page 2

Was Cohen friends with his friend for more than forty years, or did Cohen sit with his friend for more than forty years. I can't tell, and both could be possible depending on how old the two men are and how long they have been sitting, cumulatively, over the years.

Self-Knowledge

Book Notes

As mentioned, I am a fan of The School of Life, their mission, and their products. This book continues that fandom in a strong way. And with this book, I'm well on my way to reading a significantly large number of essays this year.

This is a short book, 96 whole pages divided into six sections: Self-Ignorance, Philosophical Meditation, Emotional Identity, Honesty and Denial, Self-Judgement, Emotional Scepticism. The section that delighted me the most is the Philosophical Mediation section, as it explains the (classical) Stoic process of dealing with the stresses and worries of life by asking (and processing) the questions "What am I anxious about?", "What am I upset about?", and "What am I excited about?".

The last three sections were also particular relevant to me, but, well, your mileage may vary with this book. If you're in a reflective mood, this book is amazing and possibly a life-changer. That life-changing assumes the reader processes the book, and doesn't just read it, shrug, and toss it aside.

Normally, I'd list all the quotes of the book I found meaningful. Here, however, I realize that the parts I find relevant are revealing in a way I find too vulnerable. So instead, here's one note from the Faulty Walnut:

The walnut is extremely bad at understanding why it is having certain thoughts and ideas.

It doesn’t typically notice the role that levels of sleep, sugar, hormones and other physiological factors play upon the formation of ideas. The walnut adheres to an intellectual interpretation of plans and positions that are, at base, frequently merely physiological. Therefore, it can feel certain that the right answer is to divorce or leave the job rather than go back to bed or eat something to raise blood sugar levels.
Location 540

If you're in a place where you're ready to reflect internally and grow, this book is amazing, let me buy you a copy.

How to Write Short

Book Notes

This book was one of two books about writing recommended to me by a group of web developers and web content people.

I am glad I read it.

Clark has lots of advice, and I had to stop highlighting the book because practically the entire book became a highlight for me.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone who writes, not only short form, but also long form. Many of the recommendations are common sense and common writing advice, but the entirety of the recommendations all in one place make this book so great. Half way through reading the book, I went out and bought a hard copy (hooboy, Clark, you were buried, I had to hunt for the last copy in the bookstore!).

So, yeah, if you write, fiction, non-fiction, copy, content, blogs, tweets, any sort of writing, I strongly recommend this book to you.

Consider these historical and cultural documents: The Hippocratic oath The Twenty-Third Psalm The Lord’s Prayer Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 The Preamble to the Constitution The Gettysburg Address The last paragraph of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech
Page 5

The baseball card, the limerick, the lyric, the ransom note, the fortune in the fortune cookie—each stands as a work with a sharp rhetorical purpose and a clearly imagined audience.
Page 12

1. Keep a daybook devoted to short writing.

2. Include examples of great short writing collected from other sources.

3. Write short pieces of your own inspired by the ones you’ve collected.

4. Over time, examine your short writing for seeds of longer pieces.

5. Practice writing plain sentences that contain a grace note, one interesting word that stands out, such as Saramago’s chimera.

6. You will run into great short writing in the most surprising places, from restaurant menus to rest room walls. Record these in your daybook or snap a photo with your cell phone.
Page 20

2. Study short writing wherever it finds you.

It was from these brief texts in small print on the backs of pieces of cardboard [baseball cards] that I learned not just the background of the players but the rules of the game, its history and traditions, and, best of all, its language and slang: A “blue dart” was a line drive. A “can of corn” was an easy pop fly. “Chin music” was a pitch up and in.
Page 24

1. Imagine that an anti–Valentine’s Day movement swept America. You would still give out little heart candies, but the messages would now reflect disgust, disappointment, disillusion. Write ten that are better than “Eat your heart out.”
Page 28

4. Write a brief premise for a movie in which something discovered in a pack of baseball cards proves crucial.

5. Write a summary of a fictional story in which a message in a bottle proves to be pivotal.
Page 28

3. Read for focus.

Deadline writing requires the sharpest focus, and Von Drehle would prepare himself to battle the clock with a set of focusing questions: Why does the story matter? What’s the point? Why is the story being told? What does the story say about life, the world, the times we live in?
Page 31

2. Whatever you write, ask yourself the key questions: What’s my point? In a sentence, what am I trying to say? What is the work really about?

3. Test your short writing experiments with these additional questions:

Have I taken a detour?

Have I squeezed in extra stuff?

Have I shifted tenses or language styles?

4. Examine earlier entries in your daybook with these questions: What is this bit really about? Can I answer that question in ten words? Five? Three?
Page 34

4. Practice reading at a glance.

The at-a-glance experience is so valuable that writers and editors must take care not to undermine its effect. In other words, don’t break up a small text into smaller texts. Make sure it is published—in total—on a single page or screen. Online, add links as you must, but don’t clutter the text with so many opportunities to escape that the straight one-two-three meaning is lost.
Page 36

Consider the lessons we can draw from such an analysis of song lyrics. What practices and language moves can we apply to our own writing? Use simple words to build dramatic ideas. Depend on characters, conflict, scenes, setting, and narrators, no matter how short the story form. In music and writing, use repetition to hold narrative and thematic elements together, as in a chain, and make them memorable. Use a short text to remind readers of other short texts, enriching the experience of narrative. Remember that literal language benefits from its coexistence with figurative words, from metaphors to literary allusions to sound imagery to symbolism and more.
Page 57

Tap the power of two.

What is the difference, for example, between a report and a story? The purpose of the report, I argued, was to deliver information so that readers could act on it. A story, on the other hand, was a form of vicarious experience. A report might point you there, but a story puts you there.
Page 66

Report Story
Who Character
What Scene (what happened)
When Chronology (time in motion)
Where Setting
Why Motive
How Process

Page 66

12. Change your pace.

As a rule of thumb, the more periods there are in a passage, the slower the reader will move, since each period is a stop sign.
Page 84

And wow was this a problem I had when reading Several Short Sentences, too many breaks and too many periods.

17. Vary hard and soft words.

1. Use the Anglo-Saxon word stock to create a staccato effect or to end a phrase with a snap or punch.

2. Make a random list of English synonyms in which one word in a pair is short and the other long. To get you started: lit/ illuminated; jail/ incarcerate; piss/ urinate.

3. Look through your recent writing to see if you can substitute a long word for a short one, or vice versa. Which feels better to you?

4. Read the passages aloud to check for pace, rhythm, flow, style, and meaning.
Page 111

18. Join the six-word discipline.

It’s not clear whether Ernest “Old Papa Fuzzy-Face” Hemingway invented this bit of microfiction or merely plucked it out of a newspaper’s classified ads section. Why were the shoes never worn? Most readers assume that the baby died. But what if he was born without feet? Or with feet so big that regular baby shoes would not fit her?
Page 113

Give yourself five minutes to write five six-word phrases using each of the moves described above. Ready, steady, go!
Page 117

19. Cut it short.

A good short writer must be a disciplined cutter, not just of clutter, but of language that would be useful if she had more space. How, what, and when to cut in the interest of brevity, focus, and precision must preoccupy the mind of every good short writer.
Page 122

“Omit needless words” suggests that the writer should begin to cut a text at the word level. I am on the prowl for big things to take out. Omitting or cutting words is nickeling-and-diming a text. I want to cut big pieces if I can—twenty-dollar bills, not dimes and nickels. Remember Donald Murray’s aphorism: “Brevity comes from selection and not compression.” I begin, as I wrote in Writing Tools, by pruning the big limbs before I shake out the dead leaves.
Page 123

In his book Style, for example, Joseph M. Williams offers his “Five Principles of Concision”: Delete words that mean little or nothing [kind of, really, actually]. Delete words that repeat the meaning of other words [various and sundry]. Delete words implied by other words [terrible tragedy]. Replace a phrase with a word [in the event that becomes if]. Change negatives to affirmatives [not include becomes omit].
Page 124

20. Add by contraction.

Each of us seeks the level of language (including text slang, abbreviations, and contractions) that best serves our writing purposes, our authentic voices, and the most urgent needs of our audiences.

Gene Weingarten wondered what would have happened if Lincoln had decided to tweet the Gettysburg Address: “87 years ago, our dads made us free. Yay! Still want free, but hard! Fighting, dying, burying! Need more fight tho, so dead be happy.”
Page 128

I laughed at this!

21. Excerpt—but in context.

The famous writing teacher Donald Murray quotes from the Roman poet Horace: “Nulla dies sine linea,” Latin for “Never a day without a line” (of writing).
Page 134

Every writer I know has had an editor who, to save space, has cut a passage to the bone. When it’s done well, the meaning can ring clearer with fewer words. When it’s done poorly, something critical to the reader’s understanding is left behind.
Page 135

22. Surprise with brevity.

This book began with the reflection that the right words in the right order might be worth a thousand pictures. When I hear the famous words of Lincoln, or a recitation of the Twenty-Third Psalm, or the final, climactic litany of Dr. King standing before the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial, I close my eyes and hear and then see images, word pictures that fill my heart and fire up my soul, language that sets my imagination soaring.
Page 141

The good and responsible writer works from a sense of mission and purpose, no matter how short the text.
Page 144

25. Sound wise.

Test your efforts against the criteria established by James Geary in The World in a Phrase. His five laws of the aphorism are: “It must be brief. It must be personal. It must be definitive. It must be philosophical. It must have a twist.”
Page 166

26. Sell.

His checklist of persuasive elements includes the following:

A clear product explanation
New features
Technical language for credibility
Resolving objections
Gender preference
Clarity and rhythm
Product service (what happens when it breaks?)
Trial period
Price comparison
Testimonial
How to order now
Page 174

27. Entice.
The best profiles seem to follow a three-part structure:

The Pitch: Where the writer attempts to stand apart from the masses in a sentence or two at the top.

The Lure: Where the writer compiles evidence (anecdotes, preferences, humor) that he is worthy.

The Catch: Where the writer ends with an irresistible call to action.
Page 175

[Dating website] offers the most thorough advice on how best to take advantage of the form. In summary:

Choose your user name carefully. (It’s the first thing people see.)
Your heading, or catchphrase, is critical. (An enticement to read further.)
The first few lines will make or break you. (I call it the ten-second rule.)
Keep things brief and simple. (No more than 250 words.)
Check spelling and grammar. (Don’t be judged for a lack of intelligence because you did not have the time or energy to check your work.)
Pay attention to the close. (Consider asking a question that invites a response.)
Page 182

Although the advice in this chapter has focused on the dating profile, the strategies for writing a good one apply across other forms of writing. Reread one of your own essays and evaluate it against these questions: Is my title or headline compelling? Do I begin the text with something irresistibly interesting? Do I reward the reader throughout with incentives to keep reading? Does my ending make the reader glad he or she has arrived? Have I purged the text of distracting and misleading errors? And finally, would a reader of my work discover in my writing voice someone worth talking to over a beer or a cup of coffee? Everything you write is, in essence, a dating profile.
Page 182

29. Reframe messages as dialogue.

1. Sit in a busy public space and eavesdrop on conversations. In your daybook, capture the most interesting snippets. Imagine a fictional scene in which that dialogue takes place.
Page 195

30. Marry words with pictures.

In Aim for the Heart, my Poynter colleague Al Tompkins argues that in good television, “pictures and words should not match,” but they should, according to Jill Geisler, “hold hands.”
Page 202

31. Summarize and define.

In an influential essay titled “Defining Deviancy Down,” former U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan explored ways in which behaviors once thought deviant (bearing a child out of wedlock) become tolerated, approaching normal. How you define deviancy matters greatly, argued Moynihan. If it is too easy to be marked as deviant, you probably live in an authoritarian country (consider the plight of women in places such as Saudi Arabia, where a woman’s driving a car or not wearing a head covering would be considered deviant).
Page 204

“Malesuete (adj.) Accustomed to poor habits or customs. A nice, middle-of-the-road word for describing the common flaws that afflict us all. Malesuete does not refer to the catastrophic, hair-pulling, Greek tragedy kinds of flaws, such as being the kind of person who sacrifices his own children. It is more apt for describing things like clipping your toenails in public: the minor flaws that annoy everyone around you.”
Page 206

33. Report and narrate.

More and more, news is broken not through official channels but through the collective experience of the crowd, as when a 5.9 earthquake surprised the state of Virginia and other locations on the East Coast.
Page 221

1. After more than two centuries, the basic reporting questions remain the same: who, what, where, when, why, and how. In short forms, the savvy reporter will avoid cramming the Five W’s into a text, focusing instead on one or two.

2. Reports become stories through this conversion table: who = character; what = scene; where = setting; when = chronology; why = motive; and how = how it happened.
Page 224

35. Protect against the misuses of short writing.

Attachment to a slogan can also become a substitute for healthy skepticism and critical thinking, a problem Jeffrey Scheuer attacks in his book The Sound Bite Society: “A sound bite society is one that is flooded with images and slogans, bits of information and abbreviated or symbolic messages—a culture of instant but shallow communication. It is not just a culture of gratification and consumption, but one of immediacy and superficiality, in which the very notion of ‘news’ erodes in a tide of formulaic mass entertainment. It is a society anesthetized to violence, one that is cynical but uncritical, and indifferent to, if not contemptuous of, the more complex human tasks of cooperation, conceptualization, and serious discourse.”
Page 230

“So if you are an advocate of ‘less’ government,” writes Luntz, “better to use the language of making Washington accountable or making Washington more effective.”

Here are a few of the word choices promoted by the opinion guru:

When speaking of health care reform, never say privatization; say personalization.

Never say tax reform or tax cuts; instead say tax simplification or tax relief.

Never say capitalism or global economy; say free market economy.

Never say inheritance tax or estate tax; say death tax.

Never say drilling for oil; say exploring for energy.
Page 232

People.

The move is described in this Orwell critique: “The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”
Page 233

He writes, “Propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with enlightened self-interest appeals to reason by means of logical arguments based upon the best available evidence fully and honestly set forth.” The triumph of reason over passion would create a utopia.

Instead, writes Huxley, “Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God.” (The italics are mine.)
Page 234

There are many good things to sell in this world, from useful products to progressive ideas. Your soul isn’t one of them.
Page 234

2. The word propaganda once had a neutral meaning: language or other messages in support of a candidate or cause. By the end of World War II, it took on negative connotations, with associations to Nazi hate speech and literature. As a result, we no longer have a word that stands for positive, rational propaganda. Perhaps advocacy comes close. Keep your eyes open for language—including slogans and other ways of summarizing—that encourages reason over emotions and passions.
Page 235

Hope In The Dark

Book Notes

I read a blog post recently where the author commented about being in an unmotivated state. He sounded depressed. My suggestion to him was exercise and help someone. Exercise has been shown to relieve depression. Helping another person, even in a small way, has helped relieve depression in everyone I know who struggled with non-severe and non-clinical depression.

My comment received a supportive reply (I really wish I had kept a link to the comment), and further comment that helping others as a way to combat depression was a thought she had read in Hope in the Dark. I put a hold on the book and read it when it dropped into my reading queue.

The book was written about finding hope to keep trying to change the world for the better, during the Bush Jr. administration. Solnit let us know through this book that while, yes, what the administration was doing was bad, citizens were pushing back. Many, many people said no, this is not acceptable, and pushed back on the bad policies and bad laws.

Any glimmer of hope of progress since that administration has certainly turned to despair in this administration, with its obvious greed, corruption, bigotry, racism, and misogyny.

And yet.

And yet.

Solnit comments on this many times in the book, about how despair is one part of the activism spectrum; that even during the darkest despair, there is still hope.

The book reminded me of early 2017, when Eric went to a rally protesting Cheetoh's not releasing his tax records. Oh, how innocent we all were then. Brother Chris was looped into a text conversation that Eric, who was doing his part in the protests calling for the returns, started. Chris' responses were just so damn negative and defeated. "Oh, why do that, it won't do any good." and "That's dumb, nothing will change." Rather than doing something (anything), he gave up without trying.

We dropped him from the conversation and kept chatting. That day, we learned that Chris gives up, doesn't believe in change, and doesn't believe that an individual can make a difference.

Solnit addresses that, too, in the book, that some people give up without trying.

This book might not be life-changing, but I strongly recommend it for everyone, especially anyone who is losing hope (or has already lost it) in these ugly times. If nothing else, these ugly times have created a generation that will be politically active.

It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction.

...

It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative.
Location 196

Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.
Location 208

Making an injury visible and public is often the first step in remedying it, and political change often follows culture, as what was long tolerated is seen to be intolerable, or what was overlooked becomes obvious.
Location 236

“Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair,” the theologian Walter Brueggeman noted.
Location 279

Amnesia leads to despair in many ways. The status quo would like you to believe it is immutable, inevitable, and invulnerable, and lack of memory of a dynamically changing world reinforces this view. In other words, when you don’t know how much things have changed, you don’t see that they are changing or that they can change.
Location 284

In that essay, “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” Zinn continues,

The struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invisible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience—whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself.
Location 333

Those who doubt that these moments matter should note how terrified the authorities and elites are when they erupt. That fear signifies their recognition that popular power is real enough to overturn regimes and rewrite the social contract.
Location 344

Paul Goodman famously wrote, “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society that you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now!”
Location 367

And yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or, ideally, both. These are the forces that prefer the giant remain asleep.
Location 388

And this is why Chris didn't move.

How do people recognize that they have the power to be storytellers, not just listeners?
Page 7

What strikes you when you come out of a deep depression or get close to a depressed person is the utter self-absorption of misery.
Page 7

South America was neoliberalism’s great laboratory, and now it’s the site of the greatest revolts against that pernicious economic doctrine (which might be most tersely defined as the cult of unfettered international capitalism and privatization of goods and services behind what gets called globalization—and might more accurately be called corporate globalization and the commodification of absolutely everything).
Page 9

The despair that keeps coming up is a loss of belief that the struggle is worthwhile.
Page 12

In the name of the so-called War on Terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we were encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers (particularly Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim people or people who looked that way), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves.
Page 15

This is the lasting damage from Bush Dos.

I think of Bush’s constant deployment of false hope—that we were going to win the war in Iraq, that his wars had made US citizens and the world safer, that the domestic economy was doing fine (and that the environment is not even a subject for discussion). Perhaps hope is the wrong word for these assertions, not that another world is possible, but that it is unnecessary, that everything is fine—now go back to sleep. Such speech aims to tranquilize and disempower the populace, to keep us isolated and at home, seduced into helplessness, just as more direct tyrannies seek to terrify citizens into isolation.
Page 19

Another part of the Puritan legacy is the belief that no one should have joy or abundance until everyone does, a belief that’s austere at one end, in the deprivation it endorses, and fantastical in the other, since it awaits a universal utopia. Joy sneaks in anyway, abundance cascades forth uninvited.
Page 24

Though oil politics had much to do with what had happened, we were not asked to give up driving or vehicles that gulp huge amounts of fuel; we were asked to go shopping and to spy on our neighbors. It seemed as though the Bush administration recognized this extraordinary possibility of the moment and did everything it could to suppress it, for nothing is more dangerous to them than that sense of citizenship, fearlessness, and communion with the world that is distinct from the blind patriotism driven by fear.
Page 56

History is like weather, not like checkers. (And you, if you’re lucky and seize the day, are like that butterfly.) Like weather in its complexity, in its shifts, in the way something triggers its opposite, just as a heat wave sucks the fog off the ocean and makes my town gray and clammy after a few days of baking, weather in its moods, in its slowness, in its suddenness. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does. That’s why you can’t save anything. Saving is the wrong word, one invoked over and over again, for almost every cause.
Page 61

Saving suggests a laying up where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt; it imagines an extraction from the dangerous, unstable, ever-changing process called life on earth. But life is never so tidy and final. Only death is. Environmentalists like to say that defeats are permanent, victories temporary.
Page 61

If you’re lucky, you carry a torch into that dark of Virginia Woolf’s, and if you’re really lucky you’ll sometimes see to whom you’ve passed it, as I did on that day (and if you’re polite, you’ll remember who handed it to you).
Page 68

Benjamin’s angel tells us history is what happens, but the Angel of Alternate History tells that our acts count, that we are making history all the time, because of what doesn’t happen as well as what does.

Only that angel can see the atrocities not unfolding, but we could learn to study effects more closely. Instead we don’t look, and a radical change too soon becomes status quo.
Page 71

The Angel of History says, “Terrible,” but this angel says, “Could be worse.”

They’re both right, but the latter angel gives us grounds to act.
Page 72

Perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible. Perfectionists can find fault with anything, and no one has higher standards in this regard than leftists.

...

Their grumpiness is often the grumpiness of perfectionists who hold that anything less than total victory is failure, a premise that makes it easy to give up at the start or to disparage the victories that are possible. This is Earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction.
Page 77

The radical center, as writer and New Mexico land manager William DeBuys defines it, is “a departure from business as usual,” is, he continues, not bigoted. By that I mean that, to do this kind of work, you don’t question where somebody is from or what kind of hat he or she wears, you focus on where that person is willing to go and whether he or she is willing to work constructively on matters of mutual interest.
Page 88

Nothing is ever so good that it can’t stand a little revision, and nothing is ever so impossible and broken down that a try at fixing it is out of the question.
Page 88

Velasquez, the founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, says, “Number one, I don’t consider anybody opposition. I just consider anyone either misinformed or miseducated or downright wrong-thinking. That’s the way I look at people, and I believe that what we do, getting justice for migrant workers is the good and right thing in life to do and everyone ought to be on our side.”
Page 89

To be antidoctrinal is to open yourself up to new and unexpected alliances, to new networks of power. It’s to reject the static utopia in favor of the improvisational journey.
Page 92

We are trying to build a politics of process, where the only certainty is doing what feels right at the right time and in the right place—a politics that doesn’t wait (interesting how wait and hope are the same words in Spanish) but acts in the moment, not to create something in the future but to build in the present, it’s the politics of the here and now. When we are asked how are we going to build a new world, our answer is, “We don’t know, but let’s build it together.”
Page 93

It’s an enormous challenge, because in a chaotic world people need something to hold onto and something to hold them, if all is uncertain, if uncertainty is the only certainty, then the uprooted, the fragile, those that crave something to give them meaning in their lives, simply get washed away by the flood and flux of an unsure universe.

For them, hope is often found in certainty. Not necessarily certainty rooted in a predictable future, but certainty that they are doing the right thing with their lives .
Page 93

The philosopher Alphonso Lingus says, “We really have to free the notion of liberation and revolution from the idea of permanently setting up some other kind of society.”
Page 94

This.

Zapatista scholar John Holloway has a manifesto of a book out called Change the World Without Taking Power, a similar argument that the revolution is an end in itself that fails its spirit and its ideals when it becomes the next institutional power.
Page 94

There is a vast area of do-it-yourself activity directed towards changing the world that does not have the state as its focus and that does not aim at gaining positions of power. It is an arena in which the old distinctions between reform and revolution no longer seem relevant, simply because the question of who controls the state is not the focus of attention.
Page 94

The question is about negotiating a viable relationship between the local and the global, not signing up with one and shutting out the other.
Page 97

The best way to resist a monolithic institution or corporation is not with a monolithic movement but with multiplicity itself.
Page 100

The United States is the most disproportionate producer of climate change, governed by the most disregardful administration. This country often seems like a train heading for a wreck, with a gullible, apolitical, easily distracted population bloating itself on television’s political distortions and repellent vision of human life, with the runaway rates of consumption, the violent interventions around the world, the malignancy of domestic fundamentalism, the burgeoning prison and impoverished and unhinged populations, the decay of democracy, and on and on. It’s hard to see radical change in the United States, and easy to see how necessary it is. I spend a lot of time looking at my country in horror.
Page 107

Profound change for the better does occur, even though it can be difficult to see because one of the most common effects of success is to be taken for granted. What looks perfectly ordinary after the fact would often have seemed like a miracle before it.
Page 109

Few remember that there was no significant US homeless population before the 1980s, that Ronald Reagan’s new society and economy created these swollen ranks of street people.
Page 114

They were only defeated when their resilience was stolen from them by clichés, by the invisibility of what they accomplished that extraordinary morning, and by the very word “terrorism,” which suggests that they, or we, were all terrified. The distortion, even obliteration, of what actually happened was a necessary precursor to launching the obscene response that culminated in a war on Iraq, a war we lost (even if some of us don’t know that yet), and the loss of civil liberties and democratic principles that went with it.
Page 115

When the planes became missiles and the towers became torches and then shards and clouds of dust, many were afraid, but few if any panicked, other than the president, who was far away from danger.
Page 116

Flights 11 and 175 struck the towers. Hundreds of thousands of people rescued each other and themselves, evacuating the buildings and the area, helped in the first minutes, then hours, by those around them.
Page 116

Adam Mayblum, who walked down from the eighty-seventh floor of the north tower with some of his coworkers, wrote on the Internet immediately afterward:

“They failed in terrorizing us. We were calm. If you want to kill us, leave us alone because we will do it by ourselves. If you want to make us stronger, attack and we unite. This is the ultimate failure of terrorism against the United States.”

We failed, however, when we let our own government and media do what that small band from the other side of the earth could not.
Page 116

Without stupid, helpless people to save, heroes become unnecessary. Or rather, without them, it turns out that we are all heroes.
Page 117

Governments like the grim view for a similar reason: it justifies their existence as repressive, controlling, hostile forces, rather than collaborators with brave and powerful citizenries.
Page 117

Americans are good at the mingled complacency and despair that says things cannot change, will not change, and we do not have power to change them.
Page 127

Much has changed; much needs to change; being able to celebrate or at least recognize milestones and victories and keep working is what the times require of us. Instead, a lot of people seem to be looking for trouble, the trouble that reinforces their dismal worldview. Everything that’s not perfect is failed, disappointing, a betrayal. There’s idealism in there, but also unrealistic expectations, ones that cannot meet with anything but disappointment. Perfectionists often position themselves on the sidelines, from which they point out that nothing is good enough.
Page 140

I’ve often seen, say, a landmark piece of climate legislation hailed as a victory and celebrated by people working hardest on the issue, but dismissed and disparaged by those who are doing little or nothing for the cause in question. They don’t actually know what work went into producing the legislation, what it will achieve, and what odds were overcome to get it.
Page 140

They may fear that celebrating anything means undermining the dissatisfaction that drives us—if dissatisfaction drives us rather than parks us in the parking lot of the disconsolate.
Page 140

Maybe an underlying problem is that despair isn’t even an ideological position but a habit and a reflex. I have found, during my adventures in squandering time on social media, that a lot of people respond to almost any achievement, positive development, or outright victory with “yes but.” Naysaying becomes a habit. Yes, this completely glorious thing had just happened, but the entity that achieved it had done something bad at another point in history. Yes, the anguish of this group was ended, but somewhere some other perhaps unrelated group was suffering hideously. It boiled down to: we can’t talk about good things until there are no more bad things. Which, given that the supply of bad things is inexhaustible, and more bad things are always arising, means that we can’t talk about good things at all. Ever.
Page 141

The Woman in Cabin 10

Book Notes

I picked up this book when I was wandering inside the local bookstore. It was on the new releases table, and looked interesting, lots of positive hype, so I bought the book. I read it fairly quickly, so it's not a slow read. It was, however, a frustrating read.

How to explain without giving spoilers?

Okay, this part isn't a spoiler, since it is on the cover of the book, you know what you're getting into with the cover blurb, but let's take note of it. The protagonist has heard a splash in the water outside of her back-of-the-yacht cabin balcony which is close to the engines. She heard the sound after falling asleep shit-faced-drunk (6 known drinks on an empty stomach, more drinks implied), while still asleep and with the boat engines running. Please note that this is a book with "a churning plot worthy of Agatha Christie"? Did Christie have such a gaping plot hole?

Okay, waving off this issue, let's see the protagonist's response.

I saw two things.

[...]

The second was a realization, and one that made my stomach clench and shift. Whoever had been standing there -- whoever had thrown that body overboard -- could not have missed my stupid headlong dash to the balcony. In all likelihood they'd been standing on the next-door veranda as I dashed onto mine. They would have heard my door crash back. They would probably even have seen my face.
Page 91

Consider that for a moment.

The first thing she saw was a physical item. To be parallel in structure, the second item is also a physical item. I am completely unsure what a realization physically looks like.

But the last part of the paragraph, the heroine is worried that the alleged perpetrator has seen her face.

She is on a boat that is out at sea. She has been assigned cabin 9. There are 20 people on the boat all of whom have been assigned cabins and everyone knows who is in what room. OF COURSE THEY KNOW WHO THE WOMAN IN CABIN 9 IS.

How did an editor let this through?

The book has many of these absurdities in it.

Take the home break-in that happens in the first few pages of the book. The heroine's response:

After he'd gone, I made myself a tea and paced the flat. I felt like Delilah after a tomcat broke in through the cat flap and pissed in the hallway -- she had prowled every room for hours, rubbing herself up against bits of furniture, peeing into corners, reclaiming her space.

I didn't go as far as peeing on the bed, but I felt the same sense of space invaded, a nee to reclaim what had been violated. Violated? said a sarcastic little voice in my head. Puh-lease, you drama queen.

But I did feel violated. My little flat felt ruined -- soiled and unsafe.
Page 11-12

OF F---ING COURSE she'd feel violated, HER HOME WAS JUST ROBBED. That is one of the prime examples of violations, having a place of safety invaded.

How is Ware considered the next Christie if she doesn't understand this fundamental nature of human fear and stress? Being violated leads to feelings of having been violated, pretty basic that.

Ho-boy, and then there is this:

But even if I'd had full-blown psychosis, that didn't detract from the fact that, pills or no pills, I saw what I saw.
Page 141

Well... actually...

She heard what she heard, and imagined the rest.

Yeah, this book was a rough read for me. The details keep pulling me out, and I'm thinking, "Wait, what?"

Speaking of "What?" Too many of them in recent books I've read. Lo had a number of "What?" questions in the book. "What?" becomes annoying as a speech pattern very quickly.

If you're a fan of Ware's writing, you'll likely enjoy this book. This is the first book that I have read by Ware, so likely the last. I'm not a fan.

"What," I demanded, "you don't believe me? You don't think people can be sucked into doing something out of fear, on inability to see any other way out?"
Page 334

The Good Daughter

Book Notes

I am unsure where or when I picked up this book. I've had it in my pile for a while now, and picked it up when the slower, non-fiction I've been reading was starting to disinterest me. The book was a slower read than I expected it to be, but I'm unsure where my expectations came from.

The book is about Charlie, a lawyer in Small Town, Georgia, and daughter of a defense lawyer, Rusty, who believes that all people deserve a defense, especially those found guilty in the court of public opinion and unlikely to receive a fair trial or vigorous defense otherwise - you know, the lawyer who is guaranteed to make enemies.

Said enemies take out their vengeance on Rusty's family, and there we have the set up for the main character's demeanor, struggle, conflict, strengths, and development.

This is the first Karin Slaughter book I've read. Mom's favorable opinion of Slaughter's writing influenced my reading the book. There were a number of places where I nodded in understanding of some of the characters' actions, so Slaughter's writing is believable and understandable, which is great.

I just don't know that I'm a better person for having read this book.

Stay with me.

Many of the fiction books I've read have a moral to them. If they lack a moral, then they might contain some incident that causes reflection, a pondering, something to consider that affects the reader's life. Take the Imperial Radch series, for example. Leckie writes about privilege and power and how they manifest corruption, all in the framework of a space opera. Heinlein books were all social commentary.

This book, however, I don't feel that. I don't know the lesson, the moral, the point of the book. Yes, "telling a good story" is a sufficient point to a book, but this one didn't leave me with "whoa, that was a good story," or similar thought.

Eh, I don't know. I'd rate this worth reading if you're a fan of Slaughter. Maybe a Slaughter fan can recommend another book written by her that might better showcase her writing?

She knew all the questions on Jeopardy. She knew when to use who or whom. She could not abide misinformation. She disdained organized religion. In social situations, she had the strange habit of spouting obscure facts.
Location 167

I like Gamma already.

"Charlie needs to know that she can depend on you. You have to put that baton firmly in her hand every time, no matter where she is. You find her. Don’t expect her to find you.”
Location 257

She asked, “Whose side are you on?”

“There’s no such thing as sides. There’s just doing the right thing.”

“I hate to blow apart your philosophy, Horatio, but if there’s a right thing then there’s a wrong thing, and as someone with a law degree, I can tell you that stealing the murder weapon from a double homicide, then lying about it to an FBI agent, can land you on the wrong side of a prison cell for a hell of a long time.”
Location 1858

Horrible things were a hell of a lot easier to digest when you took away the emotion.
Location 2214

“I’m not saying anything about how stupid it is to smoke after having two heart attacks and open-heart surgery.”

“That is called paralipsis, or, from the Greek, apophasis,” Rusty informed her. “A rhetorical device by which you add emphasis to a subject by professing to say little or nothing about it.” He was tapping his foot with glee. “Also, a rhetorical relative of irony, whom I believe you went to school with.”
Location 2265

“Charlotte, let me give you the answer.”

“Okay.”

“No, darling. Listen to what I’m saying. Sometimes, even if you know the answer, you’ve got to let the other person take a shot. If they feel wrong all the time, they never get the chance to feel right.”
Location 2312

During the first year of their marriage, one of their biggest arguments had been over Ben’s habit of taking off his socks every night and dropping them on the floor of the bedroom. Charlie had started kicking them under the bed when he wasn’t looking, and one day Ben had realized that he didn’t have any socks left and Charlie had laughed and he had yelled at her and she had yelled back at him and because they were both twenty-five, they had ended up fucking each other on the floor.
Location 2346

I laughed at this. Why? the Underwear Saga, of course.

Charlie washed clothes. Ben folded.
Location 2372

Yep. Good separation of laundry.

Charlie’s shift from supportive spouse to raging harpy had not been gradual. Seemingly overnight, she was no longer capable of compromise. She was no longer able to let things go. Everything Ben did irritated her.
Location 2379

She had always been drawn to people who were delighted by the world, who looked out rather than in.
Location 3254

They had traveled extensively throughout their marriage, Anton taking jobs or Sam attending a conference with the sole purpose of being somewhere new. Dubai. Australia. Brazil. Singapore. Bora Bora.
Location 3270

A massive, reversible toll lane cut through the center of the interstate, catering to all the pickup-driving John Boys who drove down to Atlanta every day to make money, then drove back at night and railed against the godless liberals who lined their pockets and subsidized their utilities, their healthcare, their children’s lunches and their schools.
Location 3500

Sam thought about Melissa, the way she had cried every time she scored less than perfect on a test. That was probably the kind of person you wanted operating on your father.
Location 3703

Rusty remained unmoved. “Death snickers at us all, my dear. The eternal footman will not hold my coat forever.”
Location 3803

She pulled a Ziploc bag from her purse. Her tea sachets were inside. Charlie said, “We have tea here.”

“I like this kind.” Sam dipped the sachet into the water.
Location 3916

I understand this, too.

They might have been magnets, but they were of unequal power. Everything Sam knew, Gamma knew more.
Location 3958

“Do you think I should do it?” Charlie considered her answer before speaking.

“Would the Sam I grew up with do it? Maybe, though not out of any affinity for Rusty. She would be angry the same way I get angry when something isn’t fair."
Location 3965

Charlie lifted her chin. They could be in a western, or a John Hughes movie if John Hughes had ever written about aggrieved, almost middle-aged women.
Location 4186

The Wilsons took the lack of information with a type of resignation that seemed ingrained in their souls. They were clearly part of that forgotten swath of poor, rural people. They were accustomed to waiting for the system to play out, usually not in their favor.
Location 4633

She had so many things wrong with her body that she could not imagine why someone would purposefully damage themselves.
Location 4932

You could only ever see a thing when you were standing outside of it.
Location 5377

“A trial is nothing but a competition to tell the best story. Whoever sways the jury wins the trial."
Location 5410

“I’ve always preferred crazy to stupid. Stupid can break your heart.”
Location 5415

Rusty said, “A father’s job is to love each of his daughters in the way they need to be loved.”
Location 5444

“You’ve always said that everyone deserves a chance.”

“They do, but I don’t have to be the one who gives it to them.”
Location 5451

“What a rapist takes from a woman is her future. The person she is going to become, who she is supposed to be, is gone. In many ways, it’s worse than murder, because he has killed that potential person, eradicated that potential life, yet she still lives and breathes, and has to figure out another way to thrive.” He waved his hand in the air. “Or not, in some cases.”
Location 5454

“Charlotte has always been a pack animal. She doesn’t need to be the leader, but she needs to be in a group. Ben was her group.”
Location 5458

"He’s either involved somehow or he’s an idiot.”

“I told you stupid breaks your heart.”
Location 5479

Her druthers were always to apply logic to a problem, but as with the weather, life existed in a delicate dynamical balance between the fields of mass and motion. In essence, sometimes shit happened.
Location 5782

“I was so relieved when it happened. You don’t realize when you’re that young that you’re going to get older. That there’s going to come a time when you’re not relieved.”
Location 5969

She used the back of her hand to rub her eyes. “I saw Dad do this closing argument once. He talked about how people always obsess about lies. Damn lies. But no one really understands that the real danger is the truth.” She looked up at the white casket. “The truth can rot you from the inside. It doesn’t leave room for anything else.”
Location 6011

“Ben would be happier with someone else.”

“Utter bullshit,” Sam said, her tone clipped. “You have no right to decide on his behalf.”
Location 6281

Of course, she was still pedantic and annoying, but that came with being their mother’s child.
Location 6310

This is Water

Book Notes

Okay, this is one of the shorter books on my "I have read" list that I don't count as a book, per se. I read it in a dead tree format. It contained words on the pages. The whole object had a cover, title page, copyright, and sections. It qualifies as a book in every legitimate definition of the word.

But it's too short for my book reading count.

This is a printing of David Foster Walace's commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. If I had heard it at my college graduation, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have understood it nearly as well as my current day self does. I'm pretty sure if my 21 year old self had understood his words as well as current day self does, my life would have been significantly different.

I'm also pretty sure my 60 year old self will want to smack my current self upside the head, for STILL not understanding these things.

It's a 20 minute read, available in many places online (and in video format, if that's your thing). Worth reading / watching / experiencing.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what the liberal arts mantra of “teaching me how to think” is really supposed to mean: to be just a little less arrogant, to have some “critical awareness” about myself and my certainties… because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.
Page 33

It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Page 54

Several Short Sentences About Writing

Book Notes

This book was recommended in a slack channel I'm in, along with How to Write Short. The two books together helped her write better copy for a site she was developing. Having recently read Draft No. 4 and How to Write Short, I read this one, too.

The book has two big sections. The first section has a series of short sentences giving writing advice. The second section contains examples of writing, along with a critique of the examples. I enjoyed reading the second section. The first section annoyed me.

A series of short sentences would be fine if each of the lines were actually a complete sentence. Instead, the book is formated with choppy lines that break apart longer sentences.

So, imagine reading a book.

Where each line has a fragment of a sentence.

And you are supposed to know.

That it is actually a single sentence.

One naturally pauses at a period.

Which is not how this book is meant to read.

The pause habit is not breakable.

In a single book.

Yeah, so the first section annoyed me. Despite this annoyance, the advice is good. I was amused at how much of the advice I ignore, especially when it comes to pronouns. I am so bad with my use of pronouns. In particular, I use too many of them.

Anyway, main themes of the book:

1. Use short sentences, you don't need long sentences.

2. Have meaning in each sentence.

3. Trust yourself. Give yourself authority. Write about what interests you.

4. Notice things.

5. Don't use cliches. Question any sentence that appears unconsidered or "naturally."

6. Learn grammar so that you don't annoy the reader with bad grammar that they might not know about but can sense.

7. Writing is hard work, flow is a myth, "naturally" is, too.

8. Don't use an outline. Sure, take notes, use notes, but don't use an outline.

9. Don't talk down to the reader. Trust the reader.

10. Compose and edit at the same time.

I strongly disagree with the "don't use an outline" advise. At the risk of violating the "don't assume what the author meant" advice elsewhere in the book, perhaps Klinkenborg meant don't be a slave to the outline. Organizing a pile of notes into a coherent work is pretty much creating an outline on the fly. Outlines aren't abdicating thinking about one's writing, it's actively thinking about one's writing and creating a giant note about the direction one wants to go. Nothing wrong with that creation.

I'm not sure I recommend the book, despite learning a lot from it. I did remove a lot of pronouns in this review.

The biggest lesson I learned, however, was, "Don't format a prose book in poetry style, it annoys the reader."

Everything in this book is meant to be tested all over again, by you. You decide what works for you. This is perhaps the most important thing I have to say.
Page 2

Part of the struggle in learning to write is learning to ignore what isn’t useful to you and pay attention to what is.
Page 2

Here, in short, is what I want to tell you.

Know what each sentence says,

What it doesn’t say,

And what it implies.

Of these, the hardest is knowing what each sentence actually says.
Page 3

It’s hard to pay attention to what your words are actually saying. As opposed to what you mean to say or what you think they’re saying. Knowing what you’re trying to say is always important. But knowing what you’ve actually said is crucial.
Page 4

Write these things down—the contents of the noise in your head as you write.
Page 6

These assumptions and prohibitions and obligations are the imprint of your education and the culture you live in.

Distrust them.
Page 6

What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too.
Page 7

The fact that you’ve included a word in the sentence you’re making Says nothing about its necessity.
Page 12

Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you,

The prose of law, science, business, journalism, and most academic fields.
Page 12

That means you don’t know how to use one of a writer’s most important tools:

The ability to suggest more than the words seem to allow,

The ability to speak to the reader in silence.
Page 13

No two sentences are the same unless they’re exactly the same, word for word.

(And, in a lifetime of writing, it’s unlikely you’ll ever write the same sentence twice.)
Page 19

I laughed at this one.

The purpose of a sentence is to say what it has to say but also to be itself.
Page 21

No sentence can afford to be merely transitional.

If you’ve written clearly —

And you know what you’ve said and implied

As surely as you know what you haven’t said —

The reader will never get lost reading your prose

Or have trouble following you without transitions.
Page 25

In journalism, the equivalent of the topic sentence is the notorious “nut graf,”

A paragraph that tells you the content of the article you’re about to read,

As if you couldn’t proceed without a précis.
Page 26

I'm delighted to have learned about the nut graf in Draft No. 4.

If you love to read — as surely you must — you love being wherever you find yourself in the book you’re reading,

Happy to be in the presence of every sentence as it passes by,

Not biding your time until the meaning comes along.
Page 26

They recall the moment, as children, when we came upon the phrase

“And then one day.”

You know exactly how those four words feel.

You know exactly what they do.
Page 27

I love this. And then one day.

Were you asked to write in order to be heard, to be listened to?
Page 30

We forget something fundamental as we read:

Every sentence could have been otherwise but isn’t.

We can’t see all the decisions that led to the final shape of the sentence.

But we can see the residue of those decisions.
Page 32

Imagine the reason behind each sentence.

Why is it shaped just this way and not some other way?

Why that choice of words?

Why that phrasing?

Why that rhythm?
Page 34

What you write—what you send out into the world to be read—

Is the residue of the choices and decisions you make.

Choices and decisions you are responsible for.
Page 36

Start by learning to recognize what interests you.

Most people have been taught that what they notice doesn’t matter,

So they never learn how to notice,

Not even what interests them.

Or they assume that the world has been completely pre-noticed,

Already sifted and sorted and categorized

By everyone else, by people with real authority.
Page 38

There’s always an urge among writers

To turn fleeting observations and momentary glimpses

Into metaphors and “material” as quickly as possible,

As if every perception ended in a trope,

As if the writer were a dynamo

Turning the world into words.
Page 40

Don’t let the word “years” alarm you.

Think of it as months and months and months and months.
Page 46

Yes!

This is surprisingly hard to do at first

Because our reading habits are impatient and extractive.
Page 49

And no matter how hard you look, you’re almost invisible to yourself,

Camouflaged by familiarity.
Page 50

Try reading your work aloud.

The ear is much smarter than the eye,

If only because it’s also slower

And because the eye can’t see rhythm or hear unwanted repetition.
Page 50

How well you read aloud reveals how well you understand the syntax of a sentence.

Do you remember, in school, going around the room,

Each student in turn reading a paragraph out loud?

Remember how well some students read and others, how badly?

It was a difference in comprehension,

Not of the sentence’s meaning,

But of its texture, pace, structure, actuality.
Page 52

Don’t read straight through without stopping.

Read until your ear detects a problem.
Page 52

How many sentences begin with the subject?

How many begin with an opening phrase before the subject?

Or with a word like “When” or “Since” or “While” or “Because”?

How many begin with “There” or “It”?

What kinds of nouns do you see?

Abstractions? Generalizations?
Page 56

Are you using “with” as a preposition or as a false conjunction, a false relative pronoun?
Page 57

You don’t need to be an expert in grammar and syntax to write well.

But you do need to know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

Between active and passive constructions.

The relation between a pronoun and its antecedent.
Page 57

You need to look up even familiar words every time you have a doubt

And especially when you don’t have a doubt.

That is, very often. That is, every time you write.
Page 58

You’ve already looked up every word you don’t know.

Haven’t you?
Page 61

Oops.

So why not give up the idea of “flow” and accept the basic truth about writing?

It’s hard work, and it’s been hard work for everyone all along.
Page 67

The idea of writer’s block, in its ordinary sense,

Exists largely because of the notion that writing should flow.
Page 68

It’s always worth asking yourself if you can imagine saying a sentence

And adjusting it until you can.

Just as it’s always useful to ask yourself, “What exactly am I trying to say?” The answer to that question is often the sentence you need to write down.
Page 74

Concentration, attention, excitement, will be part of your working state.

Daily.

Flow, inspiration—the spontaneous emission of sentences — will not.

That distinction is worth keeping in mind.
Page 77

Learn to write anywhere, at any time, in any conditions,

With anything, starting from nowhere.
Page 80

Composing a sentence always involves revision

Unless you write down the words of a sentence exactly as they pop into your head.

And why would you do that?
Page 86

So, you’ll be revising each sentence as you compose it.

Composing each sentence as you revise it.
Page 90

What writers fear most is running out of material.
Page 96

You want to begin the piece, not introduce it, which is the difference between a first sentence already moving at speed and a first sentence that wants to generalize while clearing its throat.
Page 102

Don’t get trapped by the thought of writing sequentially.
Page 104

We’re always hastening to be done writing,

But we’re also hastening to get out of the presence of our thoughts.

Everything about thinking makes us nervous.

We don’t believe there’s much of value to be found there.
Page 107

My thought was, "Who the f--- thinks this?"

The piece you’re writing is simply the one that happens to get written.
Page 108

How do you decide what works?

What do you do when your sentences seem to waver in quality and value before your eyes?

You read what you’ve written, and it looks good.

You read it again, and it looks bad.

You read it a third time, and now you can’t tell.
Page 110

You can almost never fix a sentence —

Or find the better sentence within it —

By using only the words it already contains.

If they were the right words already, the sentence probably wouldn’t need fixing.
Page 113

Accept it: you’ll surely fail again and just as surely succeed.

There’s nothing linear or steady in your growth as a writer.
Page 115

And yes, you may begin a sentence with “but.”
Page 119

YAY!

Use the simple past tense —

Avoiding the layering of several pasts —

And give the reader clear temporal clues when needed.
Page 121

Our lives are full of endings.

The sun goes down every day.

We ask for the check.

Eventually it comes.

How broad a hint does it take to make a reader who lives on a planet full of endings
Page 121

Why reproduce the whole scene when only one moment matters?
Page 123

A reader who’s opened a book to its first page is in a tender predicament,

Whether she’s standing in the aisle of a bookstore or sitting at home.

All the authority belongs to her — the authority to close the book.

And yet she’s willing — yearning — to surrender her authority to the author

And keep reading.
Page 127

You’ve been told again and again that you have to seduce the reader,

Sell the story in the very first paragraph.

(Nonsense, but it explains a lot of bad writing.)
Page 128

I laughed at this one, too.

No subject is so good that it can redeem indifferent writing.

But good writing can make almost any subject interesting.
Page 129

People clamor to tell their stories in words.

This doesn’t make them writers,

Nor does it make their stories matter.
Page 130

You may be used to denying your perceptions and dismissing your awareness.

You may be caught in a constant state of demurral.
Page 131

Watch for the chronic language of self-disparagement,

The moments when you say, “My problem is …” Or “It doesn’t matter what I think.”

If you say these kinds of things, you probably say them out of habit, almost unconsciously.

This is a product of your education too, at home and at school.

Pay attention to it.

Recognize how harmful it is.

Its message — subliminal and overt — is that your perceptions are worthless.

Do everything you can to subvert this habit.
Page 131

Part of the trouble may be this:
You’re afraid your ideas aren’t good enough,
Your sentences not clever or original enough.
Page 132

It’s surprising how often ideas that seem obvious to you
Are in no way apparent to the reader.
And vice versa.
What seems like common sense to you may come as a revelation to the reader.
Page 132

Some people think that discipline is imposed from without,
Regular hours, strict containment, rigorous exclusion.
Some people think discipline is revealed from within,
Enlightenment, purity, solidity of intent.
Discipline is nothing more than interest and expectation, a looking forward.
It’s never hard to work when you’re interested in what you’re working on.
Page 133

But what if you hate what you’re working on?

It helps to examine the content of your loathing.

What is it you hate?

The movement of your ideas?

The nature of your prose?

The obligations and prohibitions you still secretly honor?
Page 134

It’s surprising how often the trouble with a piece of writing

Has nothing to do with the writing itself.
Page 134

One of the most powerful feelings a writer experiences while working

Is a sense of obligation, of having to make a sentence or a paragraph

This way or that way, being obliged to write that sentence or that paragraph.

It’s a terrible feeling and always a sign of trouble.
Page 136

Don’t preconceive the reader’s limitations.

They’ll become your own.
Page 139

The books that trusted you most may be the ones you love best.
Page 140

You’re not responsible for your readers’ ignorance,

And they’re not responsible for your erudition.
Page 145

“Done” isn’t absolute or arbitrary.

Nor is it really about learning your limits as a writer.

It’s a compromise.
Page 146

“Done enough” sounds too callow to describe the compromise,

So call it “perfection enough,”

As perfect as possible under the circumstances.
Page 147

The better question now is the more fearful one: “How will I know when to stop revising?”
Page 148

Let yourself ask the question why.

Why is the author choosing this word, writing that sentence that way?

Don’t expect to find an answer.

Expect to find some possibilities.
Page 162

This passage has no larger purpose than to exist, to work out, for a moment, the possibilities of some sentences.
Page 166

Reading these sentences — and my commentary on them — you’ll be tempted to side with the writer, to think, “I know what he means” or “I can see what she’s saying.” But that’s because it feels so normal to try to deduce the meaning of the sentence instead of observing what its words actually say.

We’re so trained to read for meaning — to look through the sentence to what we think is the author’s intention—that in our search for it we’re prepared to disregard the literal significance of the prose itself.
Page 169

Don’t make time or frequency an attribute of the vehicle. Let the time or frequency indicator stand on its own. Cars flash past us now and then.
Page 184

He hunched his shoulders, placed one arm on his left leg, and slid into the passenger seat before reaching across his body for his seatbelt.

Can you actually visualize this action? No. Descriptions of physical action require incredible care because we read them with our bodies as well as our brains.
Page 185

Her clothes were nondescript, a white t-shirt and jean shorts.

And yet the writer can describe them. How about She wore a white T-shirt and jean shorts?
Page 193

Dying!

The Genius Within

Book Notes

I spotted this book in a Waterstone in Amsterdam, but couldn't find it locally. Public libraries FTW!

I was expecting in this book a list of here are things you can do to increase your intelligence. In an ideal world, it would include variations based on gender, age, and weight - something like "do this, this, and that and you'll be smarter." Of course, one's expectations should be kept to a minimum, as life has a way of being, regardless of expectations.

The first part of the book is about defining intelligence (which isn't that easy to do, and we haven't done it well), and the history of defining intelligence, in all its ugly forms of repression and genocide that resulted. We humans really do like to create an us versus them about everything.

After defining intelligence, there were the ethics of what to do with intelligence, is it morally okay to increase one's intelligence? Atheletes are banned from performance enhancing drugs, is the mental realm any different when attempting to get an advantage?

The book did have three suggestions for increasing intelligence: modafanil, electric brain stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (which is a different way of getting the same as the electrical stimulation, just with a different electricity-producing mechanism, what with moving magnetic fields creating electric currents and all).

Experiments with increasing intelligence suffer the same fate as pretty much all cutting edge science: the bad results are ignored, the good results are emphasized, no one knows if things really work, there are no control studies, people are all different enough that we'll always have warnings, and it's all the wild west with the experimenting.

The book had a lot of anecdotes, most of which were amusing and interesting. The book was a fun, easy read, if not exactly satisfying in its lack of do this, this, and that to be smarter.

Teachers in these new schools were stunned. Large numbers of their pupils appeared unable or unwilling to learn. These teachers were some of the first to wrestle with a social problem that has split the field of education ever since: how to teach a class of children of mixed ability, while not ignoring the different needs of the children at the top and bottom.
Location 335

When school is mandatory, you will have people who don't want to learn in the school, making the classes difficult for those who do want to learn.

High IQ is linked to creativity, musical ability, securing patents and winning artistic prizes. The higher a person’s IQ, the less likely they are to hold racist and sexist beliefs. They are less likely to be religious and more likely to be interested in politics. They are less tolerant of authoritarian attitudes.
Location 409

This could explain the United States really well right now.

It does explain one sibling at least.

It is better to believe intelligence can be increased. Those children who believe the opposite, that intelligence is fixed (called the entity theory), are more anxious about how much intelligence they have, and it not being enough for them to succeed. These children refuse opportunities to learn if they carry a risk of doing poorly. They conceal or lie about their weaknesses, rather than identify and improve them. And they indulge in what psychologists call self-handicapping –procrastination and watching television the night before a test instead of studying. This gives them a ready-made excuse if they score badly.
Location 647

No idea who this could be describing.

Nope. None.

While that might demonstrate that repeated use and practice of a set of mental skills can grow a specific brain region, the conclusion doesn’t really work the other way around: finding an enlarged hippocampus in a plumber from Aberdeen wouldn’t guarantee she could tell you the quickest route to drive from London Bridge to King’s Cross Station.
Location 1199

No, but it does demonstrate that repeated use and practice of a set of mental skills can grow a specific brain region. You might not know what those skills are, but you know they have been developed.

The most reliable group of people to sire intelligent children are, simply, intelligent adults (of all colours and nationalities), just as taller parents (of all colours and nationalities) tend to have taller kids. When it comes to intelligence, nature can be cruel and unsentimental, but it does not pick sides.
Location 1489

The irony is that the smarter a society is, the fewer kids they will have.

Implicit skills are harder to teach, because attention has to be deliberately drawn away from performance. Tennis players, for example, can be taught implicitly to read the direction of an opponent’s serve by being asked to judge the speed and not the direction of the ball. In doing so, they learn to identify and act upon the visual cues that indicate direction, without knowing or being able to explain how they do so.
Location 2026

I find this interesting, that artificially turning off the thinking brain can improve developing sports performance.

That’s a common feature of many forms of synaesthesia; people with the condition are often astonished to discover (and some discover it late in life) not everybody experiences the world the way they do.
Location 2396

Britain was a kinder place then, many said, and less willing to ridicule people who were proud of their talents and abilities.
Location 2696

When people say things like, ‘nearly half of Americans have an IQ of under 100’ as a criticism, they reveal more about their own intelligence than anyone else’s.
Location 2732

This cracked me up.

We have a curious relationship with intelligence these days. Rather than looking down on people with lower IQs, as was common when the feeble-minded were ridiculed, much public scorn is reserved today for those towards the upper end of the scale. Perhaps this is down to envy and jealousy, as the benefits of mental ability become more pronounced, or maybe it’s a reflection of a society that has fallen out of love with expertise.
Location 2733

With the Internet and answers immediately available, people have lost the ability to understand expertise, to understand the passion, to understand the effort involved with becoming an expert. They think oh, I can just look up the answer, instead of understanding the why of things.

Some surveys suggest as many as one in five girls and one in ten boys at secondary schools hide their ability at maths, chiefly to avoid being picked on and bullied.
Location 2743

The tone of the coverage of such cases is almost gloating, as if these young prodigies somehow made claims with their early high achievement that they could not justify; as if their unusual intelligence was a deliberate ploy to annoy the rest of us. Of all the sins of youth, cognitive precociousness seems one of the hardest to forgive.
Location 2767

People do love a fallen hero.

Common sense is typically described as a kind of practical intelligence.† It’s usually measured as a judgement on someone’s decision making, but the verdict on whether someone shows common sense or not seems to come down to whether or not the person doing the judging agrees with the particular decision made.
Location 2785

They simply can’t resist the temptation to continue to deploy their abstract problem-solving skills in even familiar situations, for which the best options have already been approved by the rest of the community. They are driven to find novel solutions, at the expense of the tried and trusted common sense. And many of these ideas are wrong, or worse, ridiculous.
Location 2795

This is the idea that intelligent people don't have common sense. That intelligent people want to improve things even when the rest of the community is okay with sufficient, is a good thing, not something to be scorned. But, hey, stupid people, they mock what they don't have.

‘Common sense,’ Einstein said, ‘is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.’
Location 2811

To think rationally is to act according to one’s goals and beliefs. But it is also to form and hold beliefs supported by available evidence.
Location 2917

Which is why any Republican who supports Cheetoh these days is clearly not thinking rationally.

One of the most important is the myside or confirmation bias –the way people gather and assess evidence tends to be in line with their existing opinions.
Location 2920

Most of us get a single shot at most opportunities to prove ourselves, and we have to live with the results.
Location 3262

Unearned privilege can be uncomfortable to associate with human value, for it carries too many reminders of the straitjacket of social stratification and the entitlement of the aristocracy. We prefer people to work for what they have, and expect rewards and status for those who do so.
Location 3303

Cognitive enhancement offers a new twist on this century-old argument. If intelligence, in whatever form, is something people have to work for, if cognitive ability can be trained and improved and released with effort, then it’s pretty simple to make the case that neuroenhancement undermines this effort and is cheating. If one person has access to a short-cut others do not, then the playing field is tilted in their favour. Yet if intelligence is an immutable quality spread across the population, with some landing more in the heads of a fortunate minority, then the playing field is already biased against the rest. Why shouldn’t those who lose out in the lottery of life have the chance to turn to technology to close the gap? Only when all have the identical chance and the baseline is levelled, can the performance of any human ability be truly said to reflect value, or more accurately, can the difference in performance be said to reflect higher or lower value.
Location 3307

Artemis

Book Notes

In-progress notes:

Of all the books to stop a reading binge streak, this was not the one I would have expected.

My Review

I wanted to like this book.

I REALLY wanted to like this book.

I really wanted to like this book because I enjoyed Weir's The Martian a lot, what with the solid science and the omg-exactly-mine humour.

I didn't really like this book.

Instead, this book annoyed me. I suspect this book annoyed me because the main character Jazz is annoying. The frequent "What? You were thinking something else?" questions became tiresome very quickly. The self-referrals to her body that Jazz makes could be made only by a guy writing as a girl, thinking that's what we talk about all the time (hint: we don't).

The part that gets me the most, however, is the basic plot: that destroying the moon's source of oxygen could in any way shape or form be a Good Idea™, much less supported by seemingly rational people. Given how utterly perfect The Martian was with its science, this idea just doesn't fit.

So, yeah, if you're a fan of Weir's, which I am, go ahead and read this book. If you aren't, read The Martian, revel in the incredible story-telling and science of that book, and skip this one.

Now to read Rob's review of Artemis, which I haven't read yet... Okay, his review is better. Go read that one instead.

Nothing. He hadn’t noticed me come in and didn’t hear me speak. He’s like that. I smacked him on the back of the head and he jerked away from the microscope.
Location 911

And let me tell you: there’s no one I hate more than teenage Jazz Bashara. That stupid bitch made every bad decision a stupid bitch could make. She’s responsible for where I am today.
Location 1084

I couldn’t get it completely out of sight, but at least it was partially occluded. I slipped the remote control into a holster I had strapped to my inner thigh.
Location 1349

Okay, if you're on a caper, you don't want until you're on location before you strap a something to the inner thigh. You do that before you leave.

My plan was working! I giggled like a little girl. Hey, I’m a girl, so I’m allowed.
Location 1621

Dad taught me to use a flint sparker because an electric one is “another thing to break.” It was just a piece of flint and steel grooves attached to a springy handle.
Location 1663

My dad also taught me how to use a flint sparker, so I did appreciate this detail.

The droplet trembled along the weld site, then finally seeped upward into the crack above it. My heartbeat returned to somewhere near normal. Thank God for surface tension and capillary action.
Location 1688

He tapped on his Gizmo. “There are no surveillance cameras on airlocks. We’re not a police state. But there is a security camera in the Visitors Center gift shop.”
Location 2138

I woke up the next morning with cramped legs and a sore back. That’s the thing about crying yourself to sleep. When you wake up, the problems are still there.
Location 2357

Food makes you comfortable. It’s how you recenter.
Location 2384

I stood from the bar and downed my Bowmore. I assume everyone in Scotland gasped in psychic pain.
Location 2439

It powered up and showed the familiar wallpaper—a picture of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy. What? I like puppies.
Location 2589

What? I'm annoyed at all the "What?"s.

“Wow,” I said. “You really are all about economics.” “It’s what I do, dear. And in the end, it’s the only thing that matters. People’s happiness, health, safety, and security all rely on it.”
Location 3096

Okay, this is what caught my attention.

I frowned. “I can’t just stop being mad.” “No, but you can stop wallowing in it. And you can talk to me like a normal human being.”
Location 3467

“I’ve never pretended to approve of your choices, Jasmine. I have no obligation to. But I don’t try to control you either. Not since you moved out. Your life is your own.”
Location 3508

Very few people get a chance to quantify how much their father loves them. But I did. The job should have taken forty-five minutes, but Dad spent three and a half hours on it. My father loves me 366 percent more than he loves anything else. Good to know.
Location 3522

“Two cameras on your EVA suit, two on Dale’s, and I need a screen for diagnostics. That’s five screens.”

“Could have been windows on the same screen, though, right?”

“Pfft. Philistine.”
Location 3528

“But have I covered every angle?” He shrugged. “No such thing. But for what it’s worth, you got everything I can think of.”
Location 3533

We both stripped down to our underwear. (What? I’m supposed to be demure around the gay guy?)
Location 3637

What? The What?s are annoying.

“Run another line, Jasmine,” he said firmly. “You’re not in any hurry. You’re just impatient.”
Location 3704

I couldn’t see the control room from my vantage point. The smelter was in the way. That wasn’t a coincidence, by the way.
Location 3898

I duct taped both the mask and goggles to my face—I needed an airtight seal this time.
Location 3930

This would be a bitch to remove.

She panted a few times and regained her composure. She was a little older and more weathered than the pictures I’d seen of her. Still, she was spry and healthy-looking for a fifty-year-old.
Location 4013

Okay, for the record, it is not difficult to be spry and healthy at fifty.

The Sorrows of Love

Book Notes

I am a fan of The School of Life, their mission, and their products. I've bought a number of their books, and checked a few out from the library.

I was disappointed, however, to realize they publish their books with an aggressive, not-really-enforcable, you-can't-share-this-book license/understanding in the book, which comes shrink-wrapped so you don't know about this license until you've already bought the book. The published license is a "you can't sell, lend, or give away this book without asking us first" policy, which is just strange and off-putting.

That said, their ebook highlight and quote policy is fantastic, 15% instead of the usual 10% that most publishers use.

I am unable to reconcile the disconnect between the two policies.

That said, this book is amazing. I want to give a copy of this book to every person who is marrying. I want to buy a copy for anyone in a relation that could become a long term relationship. I want a copy of this in every eighteen year old's hands. I might feel the same way about The Sorrows of Work if I read it, but I haven't read it yet.

Anyway, this book lists ten aspects of love that one just doesn't consider when one is in an early part of eros / infatuation / hormonal / passionate / physical love. Yet when a relationship matures, it changes and becomes romantic or companionate or fatuous love, it rounds out into less passion and more depth. That change, however, can mean emptiness, loneliness, a misunderstanding about what a relationship should be. We believe the hormones and the fantasy about what long term relationships should be without knowing what a relation really is.

This book does a fantastic job at listing, describing, and explaining the mistakes in the fantasy about what long-term love is, what it looks like, how it feels, what it means.

It tells us that our struggles aren't special, we all feel them in a long term relationshop. It tells us that there is beauty in that long-term relationship, it just looks different than the hormonal relationship.

It tells us we are normal.

Sometimes we need that validation.

This book is potentially life-changing in its revelations. Let me buy you a copy.

If things go to plan, we tend to become something akin to monsters in love. As Romantic Realism attests, we are likely to be significantly less kind to our partner than to almost any other human on the planet.
Location 64

Asking someone to marry us turns out to be an impossibly demanding and therefore pretty mean thing to suggest to anyone we really want the best for.
Location 72

A crush represents in pure and perfect form the essential dynamics of Romanticism: the explosive interaction of limited knowledge, outward obstacles to further discovery, and boundless hope.
Location 113

Love begins with a hope of –at last –being able to tell someone else everything about who we are and what we feel. The relief of honesty is at the heart of the feeling of being in love.
Location 293

We must all die alone, which really means that many of our pains are for us to endure alone. Others can throw us words of encouragement, but in every life, we will at points be out on the ocean drowning in the swell while others, even the nicest ones, are standing on the shore, waving encouragingly.
Location 323

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

Book Notes

Claire recommended this book to me when I was stuck in a mental loop last October. She handed me her copy of her book and recommended it as a fun read when what one needed was a fun read.

She was right. This is a fun read.

It is a space opera of sorts, too short to be an opera per se, more like an operetta, a mini-saga if you will, of a wormhole puncher, a small vessel that punches through space and time to make travel routes for the rest of us.

World building is never an easy task. World building when you're trying to have plausable physics is harder. World building when you're trying to have plausible physics and plausible biology is even harder. Chambers does a great job, even if some of the "here, let me explain this to you" sections are a little forced. Having a new shipmate makes explaining things easier.

Ashby is the captain of the Wayfarer, and was nearly completely what I imagined Corey's Expanse's Holden to look like, really. Which isn't fair, as I think Ashby was supposed to be darker skinned. The rest of the characters had bits of other media parts spliced together for me: Kizzy was Firefly's Kaylee, Jenks was Song of Ice and Fire's Tyrion, Ohan was A Fire Upon the Deep's Tines. The amalgamation worked for me.

The book read like a series of episodes, which was actually nice, as the whole book made for a season arc.

I enjoyed the book. It's worth reading for anyone who enjoys a good science fiction read.

But with the last of her savings running thin and her bridges burned behind her, there was no margin for error. The price of a fresh start was having no one to fall back on.
Page 13

After a life in her parents’ enormous home, full of furniture and knickknacks and rarities, the knowledge that she didn’t need anything more than what she could carry gave her a remarkable sense of freedom.
Page 17

Similar to the advice a Lyft driver gave me last October when she said, "All I really need is what I can carry, everything else is nice."

The point of a family, he’d always thought, was to enjoy the experience of bringing something new into the universe, passing on your knowledge and seeing part of yourself live on.
Page 54

Her [the AI] personality had been shaped by every experience she and the crew had together, every place they’d been, every conversation they’d shared. And honestly, Jenks thought, couldn’t the same be said for organic people? Weren’t they all born running the Basic Human Starter Platform, which was shaped and changed as they went along? In Jenks’s eyes, the only real difference in cognitive development between Humans and AIs was that of speed. He’d had to learn to walk and talk and eat and all the other essentials before he’d begun to have a sense of identity.
Page 58

He slipped them off and stepped into a pair of sandals that never left the room. He found the idea of walking around in there with grubby, gunky shoes quite rude.
Page 59

He is clearly not American.

Jenks spent a lot of time in the pit, even though his job didn’t require it, and going in there with boots on felt like kissing somebody in the morning without brushing your teeth.
Page 59

I giggled at this.

Acting all sanctimonious while spouting bad info was a terrible way to win a debate, but a great way to piss people off.
Page 62

Seems to be The American Way™ these days.

“That’s kind of hypocritical, isn’t it? We assume organic bodies are so awesome, everybody else must want them, then we go off to get genetweaks to look younger or slimmer or whatever.”
Page 62

“The fact that you people have been playing this for centuries says a lot about your species.”

“Oh? What’s it say?”

“That Humans make everything needlessly difficult.”
Page 86

Yuuuuuup.

Humans would’ve died out, too, if the Aeluons hadn’t chanced upon the Fleet. Luck’s what saved them. Luck, and discovering humility.
Page 91

Not a known Human trait.

“I don’t know if I can explain this,” Ashby said. “I wish war didn’t happen, but I don’t judge other species for taking part in it.
Page 145

“Maybe, but not like us. Humans can’t handle war. Everything I know about our history shows that it brings out the worst in us. We’re just not . . . mature enough for it, or something. Once we start, we can’t stop. And I’ve felt that in me, you know, that inclination toward acting out in anger. Nothing like what you’ve seen. I don’t pretend to know what war is like. But Humans, we’ve got something dangerous in us. We almost destroyed ourselves because of it.”
Page 145

Honestly, what was it about that concept that was so difficult for others to grasp? She would never, ever understand the idea that a child, especially an infant, was of more value than an adult who had already gained all the skills needed to benefit the community. The death of a new hatchling was so common as to be expected. The death of a child about to feather, yes, that was sad. But a real tragedy was the loss of an adult with friends and lovers and family. The idea that a loss of potential was somehow worse than a loss of achievement and knowledge was something she had never been able to wrap her brain around.
Page 161

To some Humans, the promise of a patch of land was worth any effort. It was an oddly predictable sort of behavior. Humans had a long, storied history of forcing their way into places where they didn’t belong.
Page 203

“We have different philosophies, you and I, but I can understand where you’re coming from. Violence is always disconcerting, even if it’s only potential violence."
Page 207

Nib nodded. “Some people knit, some people play music, I dig through dusty old facts and make sure they’re accurate.” He flopped back into a chair as the pixels in the central projector flickered to life. “I like knowing things.”
Page 213

“Because people are assholes,” said Bear, dutifully keeping his head down. “Ninety percent of all problems are caused by people being assholes.”

“What causes the other ten percent?” asked Kizzy.

“Natural disasters,” said Nib.
Page 216

There were few things Dr. Chef enjoyed more than a cup of tea. He made tea for the crew every day at breakfast time, of course, but that involved an impersonal heap of leaves dumped into a clunky dispenser. A solitary cup of tea required more care, a blend carefully chosen to match his day. He found the ritual of it quite calming: heating the water, measuring the crisp leaves and curls of dried fruit into the tiny basket, gently brushing the excess away with his fingerpads, watching color rise through water like smoke as it brewed. Tea was a moody drink.
Page 223

Rituals.

The thoughts he was drumming up were old and safely kept. Kizzy had accused him once of “bottling up his feelings,” but this was a Human concept, the idea that one could hide their feelings away and pretend that they were not there. Dr. Chef knew exactly where all of his feelings were, every joy, every ache. He didn’t need to visit them all at once to know they were there. Humans’ preoccupation with “being happy” was something he had never been able to figure out. No sapient could sustain happiness all of the time, just as no one could live permanently within anger, or boredom, or grief. Grief. Yes, that was the feeling that Rosemary needed him to find today. He did not run from his grief, nor did he deny its existence. He could study his grief from a distance, like a scientist observing animals. He embraced it, accepted it, acknowledged that it would never go away. It was as much a part of him as any pleasant feeling. Perhaps even more so.
Page 224

Rosemary’s hand went to her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said. Such a quintessentially Human thing, to express sorrow through apology.
Page 225

“We cannot blame ourselves for the wars our parents start. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is walk away.”
Page 229

Rosemary started to nod, then shook her head. “That’s not the same. What happened to you, to your species, it’s . . . it doesn’t even compare.” “Why? Because it’s worse?” She nodded. “But it still compares. If you have a fractured bone, and I’ve broken every bone in my body, does that make your fracture go away? Does it hurt you any less, knowing that I am in more pain?” “No, but that’s not—” “Yes, it is. Feelings are relative. And at the root, they’re all the same, even if they grow from different experiences and exist on different scales.”
Page 230

“Your father—the person who raised you, who taught you how the world works—did something unspeakably horrible. And not only did he take part in it, he justified it to himself. When you first learned of what your father had done, did you believe it?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t think he was capable of it.”

“Why not? He obviously was.”

“He didn’t seem like he was. The father I knew never could’ve done such a thing.”

“Aha. But he did. So then you begin wondering how you could’ve been so wrong about him. You start going back through your memories, looking for signs. You begin questioning everything you know, even the good things. You wonder how much of it was a lie. And worst of all, since he had a heavy hand in making you who you are, you begin wondering what you yourself are capable of.”

Rosemary stared at him. “Yes.”
Page 231

"Given the right push, you, too, could do horrible things. That darkness exists within all of us. You think every soldier who picked up a cutter gun was a bad person? No. She was just doing what the soldier next to her was doing, who was doing what the soldier next to her was doing, and so on and so on."
Page 231

She handed him the mug. “And I had Dr. Chef make you some of this awful stuff.” The smell hit his nose before he even brought the cup to his face. Coffee.
Page 240

“I’m not sure that it happens a lot. But more often than for most, perhaps.”

“Enough for you not to be scared of it.”

“I never said that.”

“You did so.”

“I said I was familiar with it. That’s very different.”
Page 263

"I never thought of fear as something that can go away. It just is. It reminds me that I want to stay alive. That doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.”
Page 265

“You could’ve adopted.”

“I wanted my own flesh and blood. Proof that someone had loved me enough to create a new life with me.”
Page 328

"But I’m scared. I’m starting to think maybe I wanted this so bad that I didn’t let myself acknowledge just how fucking dangerous it is.”
Page 334

“Pairs are not inventors. They are too unfocused, too short-lived. Good for Navigating and discussing theories, but bad at building. Building takes many, many mistakes. Pairs do not like mistakes. They like staring out windows. But Solitary like mistakes. Mistakes mean progress. We make good things. Great things.”
Page 351

“And for the first time ever, I didn’t want a brother anymore, because I finally had one. And there’s nothing better than brothers. Friends are great, but they come and go. Lovers are fun, but kind of stupid, too. They say stupid things to each other and they ignore all their friends because they’re too busy staring, and they get jealous, and they have fights over dumb shit like who did the dishes last or why they can’t fold their fucking socks, and maybe the sex gets bad, or maybe they stop finding each other interesting, and then somebody bangs someone else, and everyone cries, and they see each other years later, and that person you once shared everything with is a total stranger you don’t even want to be around because it’s awkward. But brothers. Brothers never go away. That’s for life.

...

Brothers you can’t get rid of. They get who you are, and what you like, and they don’t care who you sleep with or what mistakes you make, because brothers aren’t mixed up in that part of your life. They see you at your worst, and they don’t care. And even when you fight, it doesn’t matter so much, because they still have to say hi to you on your birthday, and by then, everybody’s forgotten about it, and you have cake together.”
Page 429

Okay, seriously, what brother did Chambers have?

A Universe From Nothing

Book Notes

I really don't know why I picked up this book. There's a non-zero chance it was commended to me from Bob Diller, but it is just as likely to have come from one of the Twitter, Slack, or MB communities I'm in. I have no idea where I picked it up. It did, however, sit on my to-read pile for a good three months. Well, it sat in my Hold pile at the library, which is worse, because those I need to actually read in a timely manner when my loan happens.

Right. I did mention that my book reviews are really stories about how I came upon this book? I swear I did mention this at some point.

Okay, A Universe From Nothing. Here's the gist: in our mathematical understanding of the universe, there's a transition point from one state of matter to another state of matter by which two mathematical constructs appear seemingly out of nothing. These two particles then disappear, and we're left with a nicely solved equation at the end.

No one knows what's going on, where we started, where the universe is going. What we do know is that we're special in some way, this universe is special in that way, and that we are also not particularly special, as the only way we could exist is if the universe was this particular way.

Given we don't know where we came from and where we're going, some people need s super special thing, entity, supervisor, being, consciousness, something to keep them from being complete and utter assholes. We call these people Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, among others like, Ancient Roman and Ancient Greek, if we are to name some Western deities, ignoring all the Eastern and other ancient ones such as the Egyptians. These people who need a "God" to be kind and good to one another, to not kill, to not covet, to not be the epitome of a tragedy of the commons, tend to be uncomfortable with the idea that something can come from nothing, that the Big Bang could be a beginning, that the nothingness you had before life is likely the same as the nothingness after life and you didn't complain about that before so why are you complaining about that after, use "because God" is a cop-out for sitting with the discomfort and examining the world in around them in a scientific, repeatable, factful way.

Which is a bit less nice than the way Kraus said it.

Kraus goes into the quantum mechanics and history of astrophysics, with an eye to explaining that the universe came from nothing.

My difficulties with Kraus' writing is its defensive nature and sometimes backwards logic of his statements. A couple times he declares our mathematical models of the universe says this, the evidence supports it, so there if the models are correct. We know this not to be statement one can make, given the nature of quantum physics, the level of what we just don't know, and how physics as evolved over the last hundreds of years. We just don't know. I can, however, understand how saying, "we believe" each time could undercut the strength of his statements, but the backwards logic really annoyed me. While nothing might be unstable, Nature doesn't care one bit about our mathematical models or if they fit.

If you enjoy reading about quantum mechanics, science history, and some levels of philosophy thrown in, this is a good read. If none of those interest you, and you need to read this book for a book club or class, and you grab the audiobook, be sure to look at the diagrams in the books. They are useful. To everyone else, okay to skip this book. I'm glad I read it, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't enjoy reading science.

Hubble had earlier made a significant breakthrough in 1925 with the new Mount Wilson 100-inch Hooker telescope, then the world’s largest.
Page 6

I just love this mountain. You can see it from school, hike it in day, drive up in a couple hours, and see the ocean on a clear day from the top. Just love it.

One of the most poetic facts I know about the universe is that essentially every atom in your body was once inside a star that exploded. Moreover, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than did those in your right.
Page 17

Science has been effective at furthering our understanding of nature because the scientific ethos is based on three key principles: (1) follow the evidence wherever it leads; (2) if one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove that it is right; (3) the ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one’s a priori beliefs, nor the beauty or elegance one ascribes to one’s theoretical models.
Location 269 (yeah, I hate location instead of pages, too)

I usually never get that far in my discussion, of course, because data rarely impress people who have decided in advance that something is wrong with the picture.
Page 18

This means that these supernovae are very good “standard candles.” By this we mean that these supernovae can be used to calibrate distances because their intrinsic brightness can be directly ascertained by a measurement that is independent of their distance. If we observe a supernova in a distant galaxy—and we can because they are very bright—then by observing how long it shines, we can infer its intrinsic brightness. Then, by measuring its apparent brightness with our telescopes, we can accurately infer just how far away the supernova and its host galaxy are. Then, by measuring the “redshift” of the light from the stars in the galaxy, we can determine its velocity, and thus can compare velocity with distance and infer the expansion rate of the universe.
Page 19

Kepler derived his famous three laws of planetary motion early in the seventeenth century: 1. Planets move around the Sun in ellipses. 2. A line connecting a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time. 3. The square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube (3rd power) of the semi-major axis of its orbit (or, in other words, of the “semi-major axis” of the ellipse, half of the distance across the widest part of the ellipse).
Page 20

the universe is big and old and, as a result, rare events happen all the time.
Page 20

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. —DONALD RUMSFELD
Page 23

But how can you measure the three-dimensional geometry of the whole visible universe? It’s easier to start with a simpler question: How would you determine if a two-dimensional object like the Earth’s surface was curved if you couldn’t go around the Earth or couldn’t go above it in a satellite and look down? First, you could ask a high school student, What is the sum of the angles in a triangle? (Choose the high school carefully, however . . . a European one is a good bet.) You would be told 180 degrees, because the student no doubt learned Euclidean geometry—the geometry associated with flat pieces of paper. On a curved two-dimensional surface like a globe, you can draw a triangle, the sum of whose angles is far greater than 180 degrees. For example, consider drawing a line along the equator, then making a right angle, going up to the North Pole, then another right angle back down to the equator, as shown below. Three times 90 is 270, far greater than 180 degrees. Voilà!
Page 39

Well, whenever experimentalists find a new method to measure something with vastly greater precision than was possible before, that is often sufficient motivation for them to go ahead.
Page 66

In astronomy, the most recent observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation allow us to compare with theoretical predictions at the level of perhaps 1 part in 100,000, which is remarkable. However, using Dirac’s equation, and the predicted existence of virtual particles, we can calculate the value of atomic parameters and compare them with observations and have remarkable agreement at the level of about 1 part in a billion or better! Virtual particles therefore exist.
Page 68

The proton is intermittently full of these virtual particles and, in fact, when we try to estimate how much they might contribute to the mass of the proton, we find that the quarks themselves provide very little of the total mass and that the fields created by these particles contribute most of the energy that goes into the proton’s rest energy and, hence, its rest mass.
Page 70

Indeed, in a strange coincidence, we are living in the only era in the history of the universe when the presence of the dark energy permeating empty space is likely to be detectable. It is true that this era is several hundred billion years long, but in an eternally expanding universe it represents the mere blink of a cosmic eye.
Page 108

Lemaître’s conclusion that our universe had to begin in a Big Bang was unavoidable, but it was based on an assumption that will not be true for the observable universe of the far future. A
Page 115

everything we know about the universe today, the future I have sketched out is the most plausible one, and it is fascinating to consider whether logic, reason, and empirical data might still somehow induce future scientists to infer the correct underlying nature of our universe, or whether it will forever remain obscured behind the horizon.
Page 116

I should point out, nevertheless, that even though incomplete data can lead to a false picture, this is far different from the (false) picture obtained by those who choose to ignore empirical data to invent a picture of creation that would otherwise contradict the evidence of reality (young earthers, for example), or those who instead require the existence of something for which there is no observable evidence whatsoever (like divine intelligence) to reconcile their view of creation with their a priori prejudices, or worse still, those who cling to fairy tales about nature that presume the answers before questions can even be asked. At least the scientists of the future will be basing their estimates on the best evidence available to them, recognizing as we all do, or at least as scientists do, that new evidence may cause us to change our underlying picture of reality.
Page 118

We are hardwired to think that everything that happens to us is significant and meaningful.
Page 121

By forgetting that most of the time nothing of note occurs during the day, we then misread the nature of probability when something unusual does occur: among any sufficiently large number of events, something unusual is bound to happen just by accident.
Page 121

Our universe is so vast that, as I have emphasized, something that is not impossible is virtually guaranteed to occur somewhere within it. Rare events happen all the time.
Page 126

I want to stress this because, in discussions with those who feel the need for a creator, the existence of a multiverse is viewed as a cop-out conceived by physicists who have run out of answers—or perhaps questions. This may eventually be the case, but it is not so now.
Page 126

After all, the world of our experience is not ten-dimensional, but rather four-dimensional. Something has to happen to the remaining six spatial dimensions, and the canonical explanation of their invisibility is that they are somehow “compactified”—that is, they are curled up on such small scales that we cannot resolve them on our scales or even on the tiny scales that are probed by our highest energy particle accelerators today.
Page 133

After all, if one fundamental quantity in nature is actually an environmental accident, why aren’t most or all of the other fundamental parameters? Maybe all of the mysteries of particle theory can be solved by invoking the same mantra: if the universe were any other way, we could not live in it.
Page 136

I don’t mind not knowing. It doesn’t scare me. —RICHARD FEYNMAN
Page 141

Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest physicist of all time, profoundly changed the way we think about the universe in many ways. But perhaps the most important contribution he made was to demonstrate the possibility that the entire universe is explicable. With his universal law of gravity, he demonstrated for the first time that even the heavens might bend to the power of natural laws. A strange, hostile, menacing, and seemingly capricious universe might be nothing of the sort.
Page 141

We do not know for certain which of them actually describes our universe, and perhaps we shall never know. But the point is, as I emphasized at the very beginning of this book, the final arbiter of this question will not come from hope, desire, revelation, or pure thought. It will come, if it ever does, from an exploration of nature. Dream or nightmare, as Jacob Bronowski said in the opening quote in the book—and one person’s dream in this case can easily be another’s nightmare—we need to live our experience as it is and with our eyes open. The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not.
Page 142

Here I want to once again beat what I wish were a dead horse.
Page 144

Indeed, I have challenged several theologians to provide evidence contradicting the premise that theology has made no contribution to knowledge in the past five hundred years at least, since the dawn of science. So far no one has provided a counterexample. The most I have ever gotten back was the query, “What do you mean by knowledge?”
Page 144

Newton’s work dramatically reduced the possible domain of God’s actions, whether or not you attribute any inherent rationality to the universe.
Page 145

While dispensing with this particular use of angels has had little impact on people’s willingness to believe in them (polls suggest far more people believe in angels in the United States than believe in evolution), it is fair to say that progress in science since Newton has even more severely constrained the available opportunities for the hand of God to be manifest in his implied handiwork.
Page 145

Consider an electron-positron pair that spontaneously pops out of empty space near the nucleus of an atom and affects the property of that atom for the short time the pair exists.
Page 146

There was potential for their existence, certainly, but that doesn’t define being any more than a potential human being exists because I carry sperm in my testicles near a woman who is ovulating, and she and I might mate. Indeed, the best answer I have ever heard to the question of what it would be like to be dead (i.e., be nonbeing) is to imagine how it felt to be before you were conceived. In any case, if potential to exist were the same as existence, then I am certain that by now masturbation would be as hot button a legal issue as abortion now is.
Page 146

But plausibility itself, in my view, is a tremendous step forward as we continue to marshal the courage to live meaningful lives in a universe that likely came into existence, and may fade out of existence, without purpose, and certainly without us at its center.
Page 147

Even well after the theoretical arguments about why the universe should be flat were first proposed, my observational colleagues, during the 1980s and even early 1990s, remained bent on proving otherwise. For, after all, in science one achieves the greatest impact (and often the greatest headlines) not by going along with the herd, but by bucking against it.
Page 149

I would now like to describe how, if our universe arose from nothing, a flat universe, one with zero total Newtonian gravitational energy of every object, is precisely what we should expect.
Page 149

This “negative pressure” implies that, as the universe expands, the expansion dumps energy into space rather than vice versa.
Page 150

Science simply forces us to revise what is sensible to accommodate the universe, rather than vice versa.
Page 151

These “quantum fluctuations” imply something essential about the quantum world: nothing always produces something, if only for an instant.
Page 153

As a result, when it falls into the black hole, the net system of the black hole plus the particle actually has less energy than it did before the particle fell in! The black hole therefore actually gets lighter after the particle falls in by an amount that is equivalent to the energy carried away by the radiated particle that escapes. Eventually the black hole may radiate away entirely.
Page 155

Scientists began to understand in the 1970s, however, that it is possible to begin with equal amounts of matter and antimatter in an early hot, dense Big Bang, and for plausible quantum processes to “create something from nothing” by establishing a small asymmetry, with a slight excess of matter over antimatter in the early universe.
Page 157

Because once an asymmetry between matter and antimatter was created, nothing could later put it asunder.
Page 157

These are open questions. However, unless one can come up with a good reason for excluding such configurations from the quantum mechanical sum that determines the properties of the evolving universe, and to date no such good reason exists that I know of, then under the general principle that holds everywhere else I know of in nature—namely that anything that is not proscribed by the laws of physics must actually happen—it seems most reasonable to consider these possibilities.
Page 163

These issues have been debated and discussed for millennia, by brilliant and not-so-brilliant minds, many of the latter making their current living by debating them.
Page 173

Either way, what is really useful is not pondering this question, but rather participating in the exciting voyage of discovery that may reveal specifically how the universe in which we live evolved and is evolving and the processes that ultimately operationally govern our existence.
Page 178

As I have also argued, one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare. A universe without purpose or guidance may seem, for some, to make life itself meaningless. For others, including me, such a universe is invigorating. It makes the fact of our existence even more amazing, and it motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions and to make the most of our brief existence in the sun, simply because we are here, blessed with consciousness and with the opportunity to do so.
Page 181

Afterword by Richard Dawkins

As Krauss and a colleague wittily put it, “We live at a very special time . . . the only time when we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time!”
Page 188

If you think that’s bleak and cheerless, too bad. Reality doesn’t owe us comfort.
Page 188

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