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:

The Disappearing Spoon

Book Notes

Okay, here we go, traipsing both down memory lane AND across the periodic table. I so much enjoyed this book. It took me a while to read it, however, and I totally missed the Caltech Bookclub meetings about it. I ended up checking it out from two different libraries for a total of three checkouts, not because it wasn't interesting, but rather because I needed to just start reading it.

The book is all about the periodic table, its history and its current state. Kean gives us stories about the different parts of the table, along with the stories of the main characters in its development, including those who sidetracked along the way.

Kean discusses the various parts of the periodic table, going through the chemistry and the physics of different elements, along with the science of finding the elements and the politics of naming them.

So... much... fun.

Probably helped that a lot of it happened at Tech and at Berkeley.

If you like science, this is a good book. If you enjoy pondering the periodic table even a hundredth as much as I do (yes, I have it memorized!), I strongly recommend this book. Even if you don't even think about the periodic table much, it still makes a great book to read to the kids before bed.

The discovery of eka-aluminium, now known as gallium, raises the question of what really drives science forward — theories, which frame how people view the world, or experiments, the simplest of which can destroy elegant theories.
Page 54

Melts in your hand! Geranium doesn't!

And after such a breakthrough, Böttger reasonably expected his freedom. Unfortunately, the king decided he was now too valuable to release and locked him up under tighter security.
Page 61

But if Ytterby had the proper economic conditions to make mining profitable and the proper geology to make it scientifically worthwhile, it still needed the proper social climate.
Page 61

They’re neither created nor destroyed: elements just are.
Page 65

Since the pinprick that existed back then, fourteen billion years ago, contained all the matter in the universe, everything around us must have been ejected from that speck.
Page 65

And if you’re looking for truly exotic materials, astronomers believe that Jupiter’s erratic magnetic field can be explained only by oceans of black, liquid “metallic hydrogen.” Scientists have seen metallic hydrogen on earth only for nanoseconds under the most exhaustively extreme conditions they can produce.
Page 70

Sure, promethium was useless, but scientists, of all people, cheer impractical discoveries, and the completion of the periodic table was epochal, the culmination of millions of man-hours.
Page 103


At this point, rooms full of young women with pencils (many of them scientists’ wives, who’d been hired to help out because they were crushingly bored in Los Alamos) would get a sheet with the random numbers and begin to calculate (sometimes without knowing what it all meant) how the neutron collided with a plutonium atom; whether it was gobbled up; how many new neutrons if any were released in the process; how many neutrons those in turn released; and so on.
Page 108

Other elements absorb extra neutrons like alcoholics do another shot at the bar — they’ll get sick someday but not for eons.
Page 113

The New Yorker staff answered, “We are already at work in our office laboratories on ‘newium’ and ‘yorkium.’ So far we just have the names.”
Page 116

But his first major scientific discovery, which propelled him to those other honors, was the result of dumb luck.
Page 116

As many inventions and discoveries are, alas.

A little childishly, he never earned more than a bachelor’s degree, not wanting to subject himself to more schooling.
Page 118

Cracked me up.

Jokes aside, much of a generation of Soviet science was squandered extracting nickel and other metals for Soviet industry.
Page 124

Hate politics like this.

“Leave [physicists] in peace,” Stalin graciously allowed. “We can always shoot them later.”
Page 125

However, though good science itself, Mendeleev’s work encouraged a lot of bad science, since it convinced people to look for something they were predisposed to find.
Page 138

Confirmation bias is a bitch.

Given that nationalism had destroyed Europe a decade earlier, other scientists did not look kindly on those Teutonic, even jingoistic names — both the Rhine and Masuria had been sites of German victories in World War I.
Page 139

In fact, Lawrence blurted out, oblivious to the Italian’s feelings, how happy he was to save $184 per month to spend on equipment, like his precious cyclotron. Ouch. This was further proof that Lawrence, for all his skill in securing funds and directing research, was obtuse with people.
Page 141

“Fission… escaped us, although it was called specifically to our attention by Ida Noddack, who sent us an article in which she clearly indicated the possibility…. The reason for our blindness is not clear.”

(As a historical curiosity, he might also have pointed out that the two people who came closest to discovering fission, Noddack and Irène Joliot-Curie — daughter of Marie Curie — and the person who eventually did discover it, Lise Meitner, were all women.)
Page 142

Yeah. The "reason" is not clear. Right.

It’s not clear why Pauling bothered to have someone check him if he wasn’t going to listen, but Pauling’s reason for ignoring the student is clear. He wanted scientific priority — he wanted every other DNA idea to be considered a knockoff of his.
Page 147

If certain bacteria, fungi, or algae inch across something made of copper, they absorb copper atoms, which disrupt their metabolism (human cells are unaffected). The microbes choke and die after a few hours. This effect — the oligodynamic, or “self-sterilizing,” effect — makes metals more sterile than wood or plastic and explains why we have brass doorknobs and metal railings in public places.
Page 168

Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius.
Page 179

I need this on a t-shirt.

Hundreds died within weeks — further proof that when it comes to panaceas the credulity of human beings is boundless.
Page 181

After determining that life has a bias toward handedness on a deep level, Pasteur suggested that chirality was the sole “well-marked line of demarcation that at the present can be drawn between the chemistry of dead matter and the chemistry of living matter.”

If you’ve ever wondered what defines life, chemically there’s your answer.
Page 181

The clever part was that both the chiral catalyst with the rhodium atom and the target 2D molecule were sprawling and bulky. So when they approached each other to react, they did so like two obese animals trying to have sex.
Page 183

Panic never kicks in, despite the lack of oxygen. That might seem incredible if you’ve ever been trapped underwater. The instinct not to suffocate will buck you to the surface. But our hearts, lungs, and brains actually have no gauge for detecting oxygen.

Those organs judge only two things: whether we’re inhaling some gas, any gas, and whether we’re exhaling carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide dissolves in blood to form carbonic acid, so as long as we purge CO2 with each breath and tamp down the acid, our brains will relax.

It’s an evolutionary kludge, really. It would make more sense to monitor oxygen levels, since that’s what we crave. It’s easier — and usually good enough — for cells to check that carbonic acid is close to zero, so they do the minimum.
Page 188

More than anything, politics proved the folly of scientists burying their heads in lab work and hoping the world around them figured out its problems as tidily as they did their equations.
Page 205

After years of willed invisibility, Meitner was suddenly subject to Nazi pogroms. And when a colleague, a chemist, tried to turn her in, she had no choice but to flee, with just her clothes and ten deutsch marks.
Page 218

The eka-lanthanum Joliot-Curie had found was plain lanthanum, the fallout of the first tiny nuclear explosions! Hevesy, who saw early drafts of Joliot-Curie’s papers from that time, later reminisced on how close she’d come to making that unimaginable discovery. But Joliot-Curie, Hevesy said, “didn’t trust herself enough” to believe the correct interpretation. Meitner trusted herself, and she convinced Hahn that everyone else was wrong.
Page 218

He had read Goethe in the original German and found him mediocre. I was still young enough to be impressed by any strong convictions, and the denunciation made me suspicious of Goethe as a great thinker. Years
Page 240

He did so with all the enthusiasm of a dilettante, and about as much competence.
Page 240

As usual, Goethe picked the losing side because it pleased him aesthetically.
Page 241

In the late 1920s, the legendary Hungarian (and later American) designer László Moholy-Nagy drew an academic distinction between “forced obsolescence” and “artificial obsolescence.” Forced obsolescence is the normal course of things for technologies, the roughage of history books: plows gave way to reapers, muskets to Gatling guns, wooden boat hulls to steel.

In contrast, artificial obsolescence did and increasingly would dominate the twentieth century, Moholy-Nagy argued. People were abandoning consumer goods not because the goods were superannuated, but because the Joneses had some newer, fancier design. Moholy-Nagy — an artist and something of a philosopher of design — couched artificial obsolescence as materialistic, infantile, and a “moral disintegration.”
Page 244

He had read and absorbed Moholy-Nagy’s theories of design, but instead of letting the moral reproach of artificial obsolescence hem him in, Parker saw it in true American fashion: a chance to make a lot of money. If people had something better to buy, they would, even if they didn’t need
Page 245

Either way, the name fit the confessional poet, who exemplified the mad artist — someone like van Gogh or Poe, whose genius stems from parts of the psyche most of us cannot access, much less harness for artistic purposes.
Page 251

Special proteins attach to people’s DNA each morning, and after a fixed time they degrade and fall off. Sunlight resets the proteins over and over, so they hold on much longer. In fact, the proteins fall off only after darkness falls — at which point the brain should “notice” the bare DNA and stop producing stimulants.
Page 253

Many artists report feeling flatlined or tranquilized on lithium.
Page 254

Though an essential trace nutrient in all animals (in humans, the depletion of selenium in the bloodstream of AIDS patients is a fatally accurate harbinger of death), selenium is toxic in large doses.
Page 258

what pathological science is not. It’s not fraud, since the adherents of a pathological science believe they’re right — if only everyone else could see it. It’s not pseudoscience, like Freudianism and Marxism, fields that poach on the imprimatur of science yet shun the rigors of the scientific method.

It’s also not politicized science, like Lysenkoism, where people swear allegiance to a false science because of threats or a skewed ideology. Finally, it’s not general clinical madness or merely deranged belief.

It’s a particular madness, a meticulous and scientifically informed delusion. Pathological scientists pick out a marginal and unlikely phenomenon that appeals to them for whatever reason and bring all their scientific acumen to proving its existence.
Page 259

But the game is rigged from the start: their science serves only the deeper emotional need to believe in something.
Page 259

A pathological science takes advantage of that caution. Basically, its believers use the ambiguity about evidence as evidence — claiming that scientists don’t know everything and therefore there’s room for my pet theory, too.
Page 260

But what really makes the ongoing hunt for megalodons pathological is that doubt from the establishment only deepens people’s convictions.
Page 263

Still, a few skeptics, especially at Cal Tech, seethed. Cold fusion upset these men’s scientific sensibilities, and Pons and Fleischmann’s arrogance upset their modesty.
Page 265

One word, little t. Caltech, please.

Whenever pure tin tools or tin coins or tin toys got cold, a whitish rust began to creep over them like hoarfrost on a window in winter. The white rust would break out into pustules, then weaken and corrode the tin, until it crumbled and eroded away. Unlike iron rust, this was not a chemical reaction. As scientists now know, this happens because tin atoms can arrange themselves inside a solid in two different ways, and when they get cold, they shift from their strong “beta” form to the crumbly, powdery “alpha” form.
Page 279

Various European cities with harsh winters (e.g., St. Petersburg) have legends about expensive tin pipes on new church organs exploding into ash the instant the organist blasted his first chord. (Some pious citizens were more apt to blame the Devil.)
Page 280

Scientists can now coax ice into forming fourteen distinctly shaped crystals by using high-pressure chambers. Some ices sink rather than float in water, and others form not six-sided snowflakes, but shapes like palm leaves or heads of cauliflower.
Page 282

Some cosmologists today calculate that our entire universe burst into existence when a single submicronanobubble slipped free from that foam and began expanding at an exponential rate. It’s a handsome theory, actually, and explains a lot — except, unfortunately, why this might have happened.
Page 308

The first complex organic molecules may have formed not in the turbulent ocean, as is commonly thought, but in water bubbles trapped in Arctic-like sheets of ice. Water is quite heavy, and when water freezes, it crushes together dissolved “impurities,” such as organic molecules, inside bubbles. The concentration and compression in those bubbles might have been high enough to fuse those molecules into self-replicating systems.
Page 309

Oklo was powered by nothing but uranium, water, and blue-green algae (i.e., pond scum). Really. Algae in a river near Oklo produced excess oxygen after undergoing photosynthesis. The oxygen made the water so acidic that as it trickled underground through loose soil, it dissolved the uranium from the bedrock.

All uranium back then had a higher concentration of the bomb-ready uranium-235 isotope — about 3 percent, compared to 0.7 percent today. So the water was volatile already, and when underground algae filtered the water, the uranium was concentrated in one spot, achieving a critical mass. Though necessary, a critical mass wasn’t sufficient.

In general, for a chain reaction to occur, uranium nuclei must not only be struck by neutrons, they must absorb them. When pure uranium fissions, its atoms shoot out “fast” neutrons that bounce off neighbors like stones skipped across water.

Those are basically duds, wasted neutrons. Oklo uranium went nuclear only because the river water slowed the neutrons down enough for neighboring nuclei to snag them. Without the water, the reaction never would have begun. But there’s more. Fission also produces heat, obviously.

And the reason there’s not a big crater in Africa today is that when the uranium got hot, it boiled the water away. With no water, the neutrons became too fast to absorb, and the process ground to a halt. Only when the uranium cooled down did water trickle back in — which slowed the neutrons and restarted the reactor. It was a nuclear Old Faithful, self-regulating, and it consumed 13,000 pounds of uranium over 150,000 years at sixteen sites around Oklo, in on/ off cycles of 150 minutes.
Page 323


Almost all life forms use metallic elements in trace amounts to create, store, or shuttle energetic molecules around inside them. Animals primarily use the iron in hemoglobin, but the earliest and most successful forms of life, especially blue-green algae, used magnesium.
Page 328

And because Einstein determined that space and time are intertwined, some physicists believe that alpha variations in time could imply alpha variations across space. According to this theory, just as life arose on earth and not the moon because earth has water and an atmosphere, perhaps life arose here, on a seemingly random planet in a seemingly unremarkable pocket of space, because only here do the proper cosmological conditions exist for sturdy atoms and full molecules.
Page 330

First are superatoms. These clusters — between eight and one hundred atoms of one element — have the eerie ability to mimic single atoms of different elements. For instance, thirteen aluminium atoms grouped together in the right way do a killer bromine: the two entities are indistinguishable in chemical reactions. This happens despite the cluster being thirteen times larger than a single bromine atom and despite aluminium being nothing like the lacrimatory poison-gas staple. Other combinations of aluminium can mimic noble gases, semiconductors, bone materials like calcium, or elements from pretty much any other region of the periodic table.
Page 342

Assuming that he would decipher DNA, Pauling had not broken much of a sweat on his calculations at first, and Ava lit into him: “If [DNA] was such an important problem, why didn’t you work harder at it?” Even so, Linus loved her deeply, and perhaps one reason he stayed at Cal Tech so long and never transferred his allegiance to Berkeley, even though the latter was a much stronger school at the time, was that one of the more prominent members of the Berkeley faculty, Robert Oppenheimer, later head of the Manhattan Project, had tried to seduce Ava, which made Linus furious.
Page 358

Overall, the history of varying constants resembles the history of alchemy: even when there’s real science going on, it’s hard to sift it from the mysticism. Scientists tend to invoke inconstants to explain away whatever cosmological mysteries happen to trouble a particular era, such as the accelerating universe.
Page 373

Broken Homes

Book Notes

I think I kinda want all my Peter Grant book notes to say the same thing: love the book, love the series, something something rivers, if you enjoy the series keep reading, and, wow, do I love the cultural references, even though I figure I miss more than half of them.

Oh, wait.

This book is the fourth book in the Peter Grant series. It follows Peter as he tracks down a rare book that was flagged for notice if it ended up in the system, which it did. During the tracking of it, Peter finds the thief dead, and heads off to the home of the author of the book, also long since dead, but of interesting architectural interest.

Which leads to wondering what is so special about the book and the buildings and the architect. This resulted in lots of Wikipedia lookups of different architectural styles (by me, not by Peter), and an ending that was completely unexpected and brilliant in its surprise.

We have a hint of a longer story arc, too, which is intriguing, too.

I'm way enjoying the series, and sorta wish there were more good urban fantasy books coming out. If you're a fan of Aaronovitch, of course keep reading! If you're not, well, start at Midnight Riot and fix that.

Nothing kills and injures more police than attending a traffic accident on a fast road...
Page 2

It’s a police mantra that all members of the public are guilty of something, but some members of the public are more guilty than others.
Page 4

The Folly had last been refurbished in the 1930s when the British establishment firmly believed that central heating was the work, if not of the devil per se, then definitely evil foreigners bent on weakening the hardy British spirit.
Page 24

“You can’t go wrong,” he said, “by searching anyone who engages you in conversation.” On the basis that nobody willingly engages the police in conversation unless they’re trying to deflect attention from something.
Page 29

“He lives on the outskirts,” said Jaget and we shared a moment of mutual incomprehension at the inexplicable life choices of commuters.
Page 48

Commuting sucks.

Lots of hand gestures as he indicated where he wanted the solos to come in during the set because, as my dad always says, while improvisation and spontaneity may be the hallmarks of great jazz, the hallmark of being a great player is ensuring the rest of the band is spontaneously improvising the way you want them to.
Page 128

Instead, I made the usual squirmy excuses and promises of the fully grown man faced with his mum’s uncanny ability to knock ten years off his age at will.
Page 129

A quiet crowd is a bit of a worry to a copper, since a noisy crowd is one that’s telegraphing what it’s going to do next. A quiet crowd means that people are watching and thinking. And that’s always dangerous, on the off chance that what they’re thinking is, I wonder what would happen if I lobbed this half brick at that particularly handsome young police officer over there.
Page 131

“You can’t have protection from the law and then pretend it doesn’t exist when it suits you.” “Technically, we can,” said Effra. “Human rights are not contingent upon the behavior of the individual.”
Page 212

“They’re probably waiting for one of us to get freeze dried,” said Lesley, whose attitude toward taser deployment was that people with heart conditions, epilepsy and an aversion to electrocution should not embark upon breaches of the peace in the first place.
Page 214

The trouble with people is they’ve got a romantic view of the past.”
Page 230

Back then it was a privilege, not a right.” He finished his beer. “Not that decent housing shouldn’t be a human right, you understand? But in those days people appreciated what they had.”
Page 231

It’s a sad fact of modern life that sooner or later you will end up on YouTube doing something stupid. The trick, according to my dad, is to make a fool of yourself to the best of your ability.
Page 236

It was just as well Postmartin had his own copy, because he regarded people who annotate books the way my dad looked upon people who left their fingerprints on the playing surface of their vinyl.
Page 251

“You know how some people work at being stupid?” she asked. “If you give them a clear, common sense choice they give it a lot of thought and then choose stupid.” “I think we did probation
Page 254

“The farmer’s not going to like it if he comes tooling up in a tractor and he can’t get in,” I said. “He’ll get over it,” she said. “Farmers are always pissed off about something.”
Page 281

“Maybe they were made here,” I said and that’s when the Asbo’s car alarm went off. The Asbo had a good one too, a really annoying woo-woo-woo followed by the sound of a donkey being castrated with a rusty saw and then back to the woo-woo-woo. It cut off midway through the third cycle.
Page 286

From an ordinary policing point of view the best way to deal with firearms is to be outside the operational perimeter while SCO19, the armed wing of the Metropolitan Police, shoot the person with a gun. The second best way is to deal with the weapon before it gets pointed at you.
Page 288

“This is fucking stupid,” said Max, who had repeated this statement at regular intervals since we’d arrived here.
Page 292

But shove had arrived and I found I couldn’t make myself move, not even a little bit. It was shameful. I had found the upper limit of my courage. Fortunately for me, there is no known lower limit to human stupidity.
Page 294

“Fuck it!” yelled Lesley. “Go, go, go.”

So we went, went, went.
Page 297

“Do you think we should...” I nodded in the direction of the barn.

“Peter,” said Lesley. “From a purely operational point of view I believe that would be a really fucking bad idea.”
Page 298

SOMETIMES, WHEN YOU turn up on their doorstep, people are already expecting bad news. Parents of missing kids, partners that have heard about the air crash on the news — you can see it in their faces — they’ve braced themselves. And there’s a strange kind of relief, too. The waiting is over, the worst has happened and they know that they will ride it out. Some don’t, of course. Some go mad or fall into depression or just fall apart. But most soldier through. But sometimes they haven’t got a clue and you arrive on their doorstep like god’s own sledgehammer and smash their life to pieces. You try not to think about it, but you can’t help wondering what it must be like.
Page 347

Johnny Got His Gun

Book Notes

Okay, I'm unsure why I picked up this book other than it is a classic, a book that I've peripherally known about for a long time, but had never read. It is THE anti-war book (not a pacifist's book, an anti-war book). Maybe Ryan Holiday had it on his monthly book recommendation list (that list being one I highly recommend for finding good books outside one's wheelhouse).

I am against war. I believe that modern wars are economically motivated, that they are a way for rich people to become richer, that they are about control over resources, and that they grind the poor far far more heavily than they affect the rich. I despise every form of violent action.

That said, I also believe there are circumstances where you need to say, "Enough." There are times when the aggression of others needs to be stopped, when non-violent or pacifist tactics no longer work, and violence is the pragmatic action. I am unsure when that point is. The Holocaust is clearly one such case.

For the record, the ongoing War in Afghanistan? WHAT. THE. FUCK. I mean, LOOK at the U.S.'s backing of Afghan rebels to keep the U.S.S.R. out of Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the U.S.S.R. couldn't win that war, WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING TO HAPPEN? The whole thing seemed to be an infantile vengeance ploy of Baby Bush for Hussein's attack on his father, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, an economic drain, continued growing ill-will towards the U.S. and a blight in history.

I'm sure there is a lot of history I'm missing, and a lot of information about the whole situation, too. Sure, yes, I don't know what's going on, but that's exactly it: the public has an opinion shaped by the media, and the information the conspiracy of the government is willing to release. Yes, I realize this. But it is clearly a war for resources. If the money spent on that stupid war had been invested in the U.S. for technology that weans us off those resources, how much better would we have been?


So, starting from the standpoint that I am anti-war, but am pragmatic about human nature, I started reading this book. I was pretty much in agreement with the horrors of war and the arguments against war being made in the book, until around a hundred pages.

And then I became uncomfortable.

If they weren’t fighting for liberty they were fighting for independence or democracy or freedom or decency or honor or their native land or something else that didn’t mean anything.
Page 116

Those something-elses do have meaning, they do mean something.


You keep your ideals just as long as they don’t cost me my life.
Page 118

This was where I was thinking, okay, yes, my ideals shouldn't cost another his life. If I'm unwilling to sacrifice for my ideals, doesn't make sense for ...

You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else’s life. They’re plenty loud and they talk all the time.
Page 119

... me to say yes to other people's kids dying.

War disproportionally affects and decimates the poor. The American War machine doesn't eat up the rich kids, it grinds the poor kids. Are the people authorizing the continued War in Afghanistan sending their own kids or grandkids to the front line? I'd wager not, and be quite surprised if I lost.

And I continued to disagree with the sentiment.

Because the guys who say life isn’t worth living without some principle so important you’re willing to die for it they are all nuts.
Page 120

I would trade democracy for life. I would trade independence and honor and freedom and decency for life. I will give you all these things and you give me the power to walk and see and hear and breathe the air and taste my food.
Page 122

And this is where I disagree with the author and the anti-war sentiment as portrayed in this book.

One could argue democracy in and of itself isn't worth dying for, and honor is a tool that those not interested in it wield against those who are or want to be (but the definitions can change enough that the manipulators of the tool benefit only themselves, which makes this a cautious, flimsy blade to die upon), but independence and freedom and decency, those are worth dying for.

The author writes,

He thought of the Carthaginian slaves down in the darkness blinded and chained and he thought they were lucky guys.
Page 190

and one presumes believes, based on his subsequent actions. Compared to someone with no arms, no legs, no mouth, no nose, no ears, and no eyes, yes, sure the ones blinded are luckier. I'm unsure their existence is better, though. The former can communicate, could potentially go home, feel the sun on his skin, the caress of a loved one, the ground under him. He could communicate via morse code, and eventually ask for his own release. The slaves, though, not at all.

I really disagree that a life lived as a slave with no personal sovereignty, no personal autonomy, is better than fighting against the oppressors.

The book is worth reading and worth pondering. I understand why it has stayed in print these many decades. It's a good book to start a discussion on where the boundaries are between pacifism and response.

She would play it clear through and his father in Shale City would be listening and thinking isn’t it wonderful I can sit here eight miles away and hold a little piece of black business to my ear and hear far off the music of Macia my beautiful my Macia.
Page 14

This book was written in 1939. The book it talks about is World War I. Phones were a new thing, and revolutionized society. We tend to forget the magic of these devices.

Then somebody else maybe six miles up or down the line would break into the conversation without being ashamed at all.
Page 14

I remembered party lines from the barest edges of memory. They were cheaper than private lines. You could pick up the phone and listen in to any conversation currently happening on the line. It was fascinating stuff, in a voyeuristic way.

Mr. Hargraves who was superintendent of schools made a speech before the flight. He told about how the invention of the airplane was the greatest step forward man had made in a hundred years. The airplane said Mr. Hargraves would cut down the distance between nations and peoples. The airplane would be a great instrument in making people understand one another in making people love one another. The airplane said Mr. Hargraves was ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity and mutual understanding. Everyone would be friends said Mr. Hargraves when the airplane knitted the world together so that the people of the world understood each other.
Page 20

Well that didn't work out, did it?

Sometimes you didn’t have enough money to go to the dance so you would drive lazily by the fair grounds and hear the music coming through the night from the pavilion. The songs all had meaning and the words were very serious. You felt all swelled up inside and you wished you were over there at the pavilion. You wondered who your girl was dancing with. Then you would light a cigarette and talk about something else.
Page 23

So, cruising. That still exists.

Well, did until the internet came along and everyone under the age of 22 plays games on the internet all day.

But the entry of Roumania into the war occurred on the same day the Los Angeles newspapers carried a story of two young Canadian soldiers who had been crucified by the Germans in full view of their comrades across Nomansland. That made the Germans nothing better than animals and naturally you got interested and wanted Germany to get the tar kicked out of her.
Page 24

He was fighting too hard and he knew it. A man can’t fight always. If he’s drowning or suffocating he’s got to be smart and hold back some of his strength for the last the final the death struggle.
Page 26

Kareen looked up at old Mike unafraid. “He’s going away in the morning.”

“I know. I know girl. Get into the bedroom. Both of you. Maybe you never get another chance. Go on K’reen.”
Page 31

War does funny things.

What a goddam shame it is to drown when if you could only stand up and stretch your hand above your head you might touch a willow branch trailing in the water like the hair of a girl like Kareen’s hair.
Page 59

He thought well kid you’re deaf as a post but there isn’t the pain. You’ve got no arms but you don’t hurt. You’ll never burn your hand or cut your finger or smash a nail you lucky stiff. You’re alive and you don’t hurt and that’s much better than being alive and hurting.
Page 60

Never again to wiggle your toes. What a hell of a thing what a wonderful beautiful thing to wiggle your toes.
Page 61

He knew now that he was surely dying but he was curious. He didn’t want to die until he had found out everything.
Page 62

You couldn’t lose that much of yourself and still keep on living.
Page 63

He had no legs and no arms and no eyes and no ears and no nose and no mouth and no tongue. What a hell of a dream. It must be a dream. Of course sweet god it’s a dream. He’d have to wake up or he’d go nuts. Nobody could live like that. A person in that condition would be dead and he wasn’t dead so he wasn’t in that condition. Just dreaming.
Page 64

He could want it to be a dream forever and that wouldn’t change things. Because he was alive alive.
Page 64

They always sent to the Midnight Mission for an extra man to work with the crew on Friday nights. The guys from the Mission came stinking of disinfectant and looking very bedraggled and embarrassed. They knew that anyone who smelled the disinfectant knew they were bums on charity. They didn’t like that and how could you blame them? They were always humble and when they were bright enough they worked hard. Some of them weren’t bright. Some of them couldn’t even read the orders on the bins.
Page 67

And yet, there was a chance at finding a job.

He said he had come to California to go into the movies. No he didn’t want to be an actor. But there should be many jobs for a young man like himself with ambition in a business as great as the movies. He said that he thought he might like to work in the research department at one of the studios.
Page 69

I love this idea, of going to Hollywood to work in a research department.

It was like a full grown man suddenly being stuffed back into his mother’s body. He was lying in stillness. He was completely helpless.
Page 83

He would never again be able to see the faces of people who made you glad just to look at them of people like Kareen.
Page 84

Now that he understood the purpose and mechanics of the mask the scab became an irritation instead of merely a curious thing. Even when he was a kid he could never let a scab quite heal over. He was always picking at it. Now he was picking at this scab by tossing his head and drawing the mask tight.
Page 90

Yeah, I understand that better than I should.

Jim had been put in a ward where there were a lot of guys who had holes here and there that wouldn’t heal. Some of them had been lying there draining and stinking for months. The smell of that ward when you hit it was like the smell of a corpse you stumble over on patrol duty like the smell of a rich ripe corpse that falls open at the touch of a boot and sends up a stench of dead flesh like a cloud of gas.
Page 93

For example when he was a kid he used to day dream. He used to sit back and think of things he’d do some day. Or he used to think of things he did last week. But all the time he would be awake.
Page 101

He had a great hedge of sunflowers around it. The sunflower hearts were sometimes a foot across. The seeds made fine food for the chickens.
Page 107

A big sunflower, with a foot diameter of seeds? Yeah, fine food for rats, too.

By the end of the season the cellar was packed. You would go down there and beside the great crocks of water-glassed eggs there would be mason jars of every kind of fruit you could want. There would be apricot preserves and orange marmalade and raspberry jam and blueberry jam and apple jelly. There would be hard-boiled eggs canned in beet juice and bread and butter pickles and salted cherries and chili sauce. If you went down in October you would find three or four heavy fruit cakes black and moist and filled with citron and nuts. They would be in the coolest corner of the cellar and they would be carefully wrapped with damp cloths against the Christmas season.

All of these things they had and yet his father was a failure. His father couldn’t make any money.
Page 109

One could argue his dad was wealthier than most, and yet...

They couldn’t get meat as well cured. No amount of money could buy that. Those things you had to raise for yourself. His father had managed to do it even to the honey they used on the hot biscuits his mother made. His father had managed to produce all these things on two city lots and yet his father was a failure.
Page 110

And yet, he should have been failure, and labelled a success.

There are plenty of laws to protect guys’ money even in war time but there’s nothing on the books says a man’s life’s his own.
Page 114

What the hell does liberty mean anyhow? It’s just a word like house or table or any other word. Only it’s a special kind of word. A guy says house and he can point to a house to prove it. But a guy says come on let’s fight for liberty and he can’t show you liberty.
Page 114

If there could be a next time and somebody said let’s fight for liberty he would say mister my life is important. I’m not a fool and when I swap my life for liberty I’ve got to know in advance what liberty is and whose idea of liberty we’re talking about and just how much of that liberty we’re going to have.
Page 115

Hell’s fire guys had always been fighting for liberty. America fought a way for liberty in 1776. Lots of guys died. And in the end does America have any more liberty than Canada or Australia who didn’t fight at all?
Page 115

See, this is one of those lines that I disagree with. Canada and Australia have the liberties it does because America fought.

Would they have managed their liberty without fighting? Could you argue that England was going to fold in upon itself and just let those colonies have their own sovernty? Sure, you could. I'm not sure how much data you'd have to back it up, though. People view loss as much worse than a gain is good. Pretty sure more liberty has been gained by force over waiting for the good will of the oppressors.

A guy can think of being dead a hundred years from now and he doesn’t mind it. But to think of being dead tomorrow morning and to be dead forever to be nothing but dust and stink in the earth is that liberty?
Page 115

They were always fighting for something the bastards and if anyone dared say the hell with fighting it’s all the same each war is like the other and nobody gets any good out of it why they hollered coward.
Page 116

Yep. Propoganda and how to influence people by triggering shame.

Then there was this freedom the little guys were always getting killed for.
Page 116

You’re being noble and after you’re killed the thing you traded your life for won’t do you any good and chances are it won’t do anybody else any good either.
Page 118

There are lots of idealists around who will say have we got so low that nothing is more precious than life? Surely there are ideals worth fighting for even dying for.
Page 118

And they say but surely life isn’t as important as principle. Then you say oh no? Maybe not yours but mine is. What the hell is principle? Name it and you can have it.
Page 118

They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead. Hmmmm. But what do the dead say?
Page 119

Nobody but the dead know whether all these things people talk about are worth dying for or not. And the dead can’t talk. So the words about noble deaths and sacred blood and honor and such are all put into dead lips by grave robbers and fakes who have no right to speak for the dead.
Page 119

And all the guys who died all the five million or seven million or ten million who went out and died to make the world safe for democracy to make the world safe for words without meaning how did they feel about it just before they died?
Page 121

He could tell them mister there’s nothing worth dying for I know because I’m dead.
Page 122

You’re worth nothing dead except for speeches.
Page 124

If they say coward why don’t pay any attention because it’s your job to live not to die. If they talk about dying for principles that are bigger than life you say mister you’re a liar. Nothing is bigger than life. There’s nothing noble in death.
Page 124

Because when you’re dead mister it’s all over. It’s the end.
Page 124

Half a league half a league half a league onward. Into the valley of death rode the six hundred. Noble six hundred. Theirs not to reason why theirs but to do or die.
Page 128

There are eight planets. They are Earth Venus Jupiter Mars Mercury. One two three four five. Three more. He didn’t know.
Page 128

This cracked me up. Sure, there are now eight. Between then and now, there were nine.

FTR: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune [Pluto]

Hell the trouble with him was he didn’t know anything. He didn’t know a thing. Why hadn’t they taught him something he could remember? Why didn’t he have something to think about?
Page 129

It wasn’t that he had forgotten how to remember. It was just that he’d never paid any attention so he had nothing worth remembering.
Page 129

But where would she be — the real Kareen — the Kareen out in the world out in time? While he slept with the nineteen year old Kareen every night was the real Kareen with somebody else a woman now perhaps with a baby?
Page 150

It seemed that an American any American was a friend compared to any Englishman or Frenchman. That was because he was an American himself America was his home he had been born there and anyone outside was a stranger.
Page 150

Even though he could do nothing but lie in blackness it would be better if the blackness were the blackness of home and if the people who moved in the blackness were his own people his own American people.
Page 151

He’d never had any particular ideas about Amerca. He’d never been very patriotic. It was something you took without even thinking.
Page 152

It never seemed to occur to her that there was a mind an intelligence working behind the rhythm of his head against the pillow. She was simply watching over an incurably sick patient trying to make his sickness as comfortable as possible.
Page 173

But that was all talk because they were really very young guys and Ruby was the first and only girl they knew they were too shy with other girls with nice girls. They soon grew ashamed of Ruby and when they went down they would always feel a little dirty and a little disgusted. They came away blaming Ruby somehow for making them feel that way.
Page 175

He got to thinking of all the prisoners he had ever read about or heard about all the little guys from the beginning of the doing of things who had been caught and imprisoned and who had died without ever becoming free again. He thought of the slaves little guys like himself who had been captured in war who had spent the rest of their lives chained like animals to oars rowing some big guy’s ship through the Mediterranean sea. He thought of them down there in the deeps of the ship never knowing where they were going never smelling the outer air never feeling anything except the oar in their hands and the shackles on their legs and the whip that lashed their backs when they grew tired.
Page 189

He thought of them and he thought they were luckier than I am they could move they could see each other they were more nearly living than I and they were not imprisoned as securely.
Page 190

They were in agony but they died soon and even in their agony they could stand on two legs they could pull against their chains.
Page 190

He too had been forced to fight against other slaves of his own kind in a strange place.
Page 191

He knew now that he had never been really happy in his whole life. There had been times when he had thought he was happy but none of them were like this.
Page 223

We are men of peace we are men who work and we want no quarrel. But if you destroy our peace if you take away our work if you try to range us one against the other we will know what to do. If you tell us to make the world safe for democracy we will take you seriously and by god and by Christ we will make it so.
Page 250

Put the guns into our hands and we will use them. Give us the slogans and we will turn them into realities.
Page 252

We will be alive and we will walk and talk and eat and sing and laugh and feel and love and bear our children in tranquillity in security in decency in peace.
Page 252

Whispers Underground

Book Notes

I think I kinda want all my Peter Grant book notes to say the same thing: love the book, love the series, something something rivers, if you enjoy the series keep reading, and, wow, do I love the cultural references, even though I figure I miss more than half of them.

Oh, wait.

This is book 3 of the Peter Grant series. I enjoyed this book, perhaps less than the other ones, but still more than most books. More Peter Grant, more London references I need to look up, more learning about Peter's journey into learning magic (hey, anyone can learn magic!), more rivers, more world building.

This one features a dead American, which brings over the whole stereotypical American cowboy stuff. Okay, not cowboy, but definitely that FBI, Men in Black stuff. It worked. I was less excited by the eventual who-done-it plot reveal, but that's fine, I don't have to like all of the plot to enjoy most of it.

If you're reading the series, keep reading.

And yes, I did look up plans for a horizontal plug flow reactor.

Acland Burghley, where countless generations of the Peckwater Estate had been educated, including me and Abigail. Or, as Nightingale insists it should be, Abigail and I.
Page 3

Finally! That "So-and-so and me" thing is really tiring when it is poor grammar.

Like young men from the dawn of time, I decided to choose the risk of death over certain humiliation.
Page 5

So just chalk it up to pixie dust or quantum entanglement, which was the same thing as pixie dust except with the word “quantum” in it.
Page 9

People have funny ideas about police officers. For one thing they seem to think we’re perfectly happy to rush into whatever emergency there is without any thought of our own safety. And it’s true that like firefighters and soldiers, we tend to go in the wrong direction vis-à-vis trouble, but it doesn’t mean we don’t think.
Page 21

I left my finger on it [the doorbell] — that’s the beauty of being the police, you don’t have to be considerate at five o’clock in the morning.
Page 33

Still, Nightingale would want to know who these people were, and as police you always want to come out of any conversation knowing more about them than they do about you.
Page 84

Obviously not a man to put style before comfort. I approved.
Page 88


This should give you some protection from a fireball while you stage a tactical withdrawal.” By which he meant run like fuck.
Page 114

I like to think I’ve made significant improvements since then, albeit from a low base, and could stop nine out of ten shots. But as Nightingale says, the tenth is the only one that counts.
Page 114

THE MEDIA response to unusual weather is as ritualized and predictable as the stages of grief. First comes denial.
Page 116

I was getting the hang of winter driving, which mostly consisted of not going too fast and putting as much room between yourself and the average driver as humanly possible.
Page 116

I’d done the Middle Passage in year eight at school — I knew slave names when I heard them.
Page 122

Code of the police — you always back your partner in public even when they’ve obviously gone insane — but that didn’t mean you had to be stupid about it.
Page 124

“What do you want?” I asked. Strangely, this made him smile.

“I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment,” he said.
Page 139

THE BRITISH have always been madly overambitious, and from one angle it can seem like bravery, but from another it looks suspiciously like a lack of foresight.
Page 158

My dad says that the Russians have a saying, “A man can get used to hanging if he hangs long enough.” Unfortunately, what is true of hanging is not true of the smell of the London sewers, which are truly indescribable.
Page 184

I shrugged. “What do I know?” I said. I was thinking of making it my family motto.
Page 205

“I’ve had a whole team watching over her since they dug you out of the ground,” he said.

“Touch of the stable door,” said Nightingale.

“Don’t you start,” said Kittredge.
Page 261

It was a good plan, and like all plans since the dawn of time, this would fail to survive contact with real life.
Page 262

I hadn’t wanted to go down the manhole, but once I’d made myself do it I was all right. It helped that I was surrounded by people I trusted.
Page 262

WHEN YOU’RE police it’s important to always convey the impression that you know more about what’s really going on than any random member of the public. The best way to achieve this is to actually know more about something than people think you do.
Page 267

Classic grooming behavior, Dr. Walid told me later, something our fellow primates indulge in to maintain troop cohesion. Dr. Walid said human beings use language for the same purpose — which is why you find yourself talking total bollocks to people you meet at a bus stop and then wonder what the fuck did I do that for?
Page 272

Trust No One

Book Notes

OMG wow this book.

I don't know what I was expecting from this book, and I don't know how it ended up on my reading list, but the book was impressively well done. I enjoyed it.

Basic premise is an author, Jerry Grey, has Alzheimers and is confusing his plots with reality. Most of his books have brutal murders of women in them. Given his dementia, his confessions to the police are met with skepticism.

Except Cleave has this great, underlying, no-one-talk-about it something going along under the plot. Everyone dances around something that happened in the past. Eventually we find out what it was (or figure it out before the reveal), but the plot twists don't stop.

While the ending was a realistic one, "the only one that could have happened," I still wanted to scream "noooooo!" and throw the book, a good sign that I was invested in the story.

Mom agrees with this one being goooood. Strongly recommended.

Every author eventually has a last book—you just didn’t think you were there yet, and you didn’t think it would be a journal.
Page 11

You got the amazing wife, a woman who can put her hand in yours and make you feel whatever it is you need to feel, whether it’s comfort or warmth or excitement or lust, the woman who you wake up to every morning knowing you get to fall asleep with her that night, the woman who can always see the other side of the argument, the woman who teaches you more about life every day.
Page 12

A woman’s body was found an hour ago, and like always when Jerry hears these type of reports it makes him sad to be a human being.
Page 25

“I have dementia."

"The dementia has an awful way of rewriting your past, Jerry. It’s making the stories from your novels feel like real life to you."
Page 61

Other people get sick, and other people die at much younger ages, but this is you me us we. You’re allowed to be upset for yourself—that’s your right, and you have to admit you’re a little angry at Sandra for getting rid of the one thing that can bring you comfort when nothing else can.
Page 63

Bad news — last night you took a leak in one of the bedrooms. You were halfway through when you suddenly realized you were pissing in the corner of the guest bedroom rather than the bathroom.
Page 96

Dementia or drunk, sometimes the same result.

Jerry doesn’t answer him. There’s nothing you can say to somebody who already has their mind made up.
Page 99

He remembers that — it was a question journalists always used to throw his way. So you’re fascinated by crime. No, he’s not — he likes crime writing, but not crime, and how many times has he pointed out the two are very different animals? It’s like thinking people who watch war movies must love war.
Page 100

He hates malls. Yet he’s always thought that if you took the malls away, society would fall apart.
Page 170

“I can’t make the same mistake again, Jerry. I’m sorry, but I have to take you to the police. We have to let them figure out what’s going on, and most of all we have to make sure you can never hurt anybody else again."
Page 180

"It’s not your fault," Hans says. “None of it is. It’s this damn disease. You’re not the same guy any of us used to know."
Page 189

... and the human race, well now, they sure do love a good show, don’t they? Especially when it’s at the cost of somebody else.
Page 196

As the father of the bride, having been where you’re sitting now twenty-five years ago, it reminds me of what my own dad said to me back then, a piece of advice I wish I had taken. He said, Jerry, run! Laughter. Genuine laughter, especially from the older folks in the crowd who all can relate to what Jerry is saying.
Page 198

But seriously, folks, as any parent will do when they’re seeing their child getting married, you think back to when it was your own time, you think back and you wonder how the years have gone by so quickly, there are always ups and downs in a relationship, and the older you are the more you’ve been through, and the more you’ve been through the more advice you can give. Of course everybody has advice, a lot of us say My advice is don’t take anybody’s advice, make your own way, and thankfully, folks, that’s not the chestnut of wisdom I’m here to impart.
Page 198

“Jerry... there’s something you need to know." He breaks out in a cold sweat and almost drops the phone. Nothing good ever comes after those words.
Page 227

People say suicide is a selfish act. They say it’s cowardly. People say these things because they don’t understand. It’s actually the opposite. It’s not cowardly, in fact it takes incredible courage. To stare Death in the face and tell him you’re ready... that’s a brave thing.
Page 232

Eva was crying on the phone, and Sandra was too, and even you cried, J-Man.
Page 233


He can remember the way the sun fell into the room, the angle fractionally different every day, the way it would hit and fade the framed King Kong Escapes poster on the wall. Only he wouldn’t see it fade, it faded the same way you don’t notice a child growing every day, but you know it’s happening.
Page 236

How many times has Sandra told them to shut up when they’ve been at the movies, or watching something on TV, because they were unable to stop sharing their predictions?
Page 237

It me.

Jerry nods. “Sometimes people say my books are implausible. I remember that." Hans shrugs. “Most crime novels are. If they weren’t, then they’d be no different from real life. People don’t want to read about real life." “This is real life."
Page 238

“People never go to the police," Hans says. “They should, but they never do, because if they did then that would be the end of the story, right? It would be wrapped up by chapter three."
Page 238

"Do you have a warrant?"

“This isn’t a joking matter," one of them says.

“I’m not joking. I’m telling you he isn’t here, and you’re standing on my property calling me a liar and asking if I mind having my rights violated."
Page 245

There is a world of difference, Jerry thinks, between making shit up and making shit happen.
Page 266

How much money does the man pump into war, and tourism, and sport, compared to Alzheimer’s research?
Page 288

That was the life of a writer — keep writing, keep moving forward, stay ahead of the crowd because if you don’t get that story written down then somebody else would.
Page 302

However, he has once committed what I’ve always thought of as the cardinal sin, and that’s to ask Where do you get your ideas?, as if I order a box online every year and have an assistant weed out the bad ones.
Page 304

The Stone Sky

Book Notes

This is book 3, the final book, of The Broken Earth trilogy, of which all three have one the Hugo award. This one begins a few weeks after The Stone Sky ended, and continues the tale. It also concludes the tale.

If you want the plot, it is elsewhere on the Intarwebs.

I enjoyed the book, as much as I enjoyed the first two. None of these books had the sophomore slump. All were fantastic reads. Bonus: I've now read five of the last decade's Hugo Award winner books. Go me. Go authors!

The Fulcrum is not the first institution to have learned an eternal truth of humankind: No need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own internment.
Location 116

You are not alone. You will never be, unless you so choose. I know what matters, here at the world’s end.
Location 138

When a slave rebels, it is nothing much to the people who read about it later. Just thin words on thinner paper worn finer by the friction of history. (“So you were slaves, so what?” they whisper. Like it’s nothing.)

But to the people who live through a slave rebellion, both those who take their dominance for granted until it comes for them in the dark, and those who would see the world burn before enduring one moment longer in “their place”
Location 141

When a comm builds atop a fault line, do you blame its walls when they inevitably crush the people inside? No; you blame whoever was stupid enough to think they could defy the laws of nature forever. Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.
Location 146

You feel no hunger or thirst before they give you sustenance; your evacuations bring no particular relief. Life endures. It doesn’t need to do so enthusiastically.
Location 189

“There isn’t a single evil to point to, a single moment when everything changed,” she went on. “Things were bad and then terrible and then better and then bad again, and then they happened again, and again, because no one stopped it. Things can be … adjusted. Lengthen the better, predict and shorten the terrible. Sometimes prevent the terrible by settling for the merely bad. I’ve given up on trying to stop you people. Just taught my children to remember and learn and survive … until someone finally breaks the cycle for good.”
Location 404

“See, this is what I keep trying to tell you, Essie: The world isn’t friends and enemies. It’s people who might help you, and people who’ll get in your way. Kill this lot and what do you get?”


“Lots of ways to be safe.
Location 918

Unconsciously, Nassun bares her teeth and clenches her fists. “It isn’t right, Schaffa. It isn’t right that people want me to be bad or strange or evil, that they make me be bad …” She shakes her head, fumbling for words. “I just want to be ordinary! But I’m not and — and everybody, a lot of people, all hate me because I’m not ordinary. You’re the only person who doesn’t hate me for … for being what I am. And that’s not right.”

“No, it isn’t.” Schaffa shifts to sit back against his pack, looking weary. “But you speak as though it’s an easy thing to ask people to overcome their fears, little one.”
Location 1128

I continue searching her face. “Why do you laugh at their fear?” It’s a stupid question. Should’ve asked it through the earth, not out loud.

“Why not laugh at it?” she says.

“They would like you better if you didn’t laugh.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be liked.” She shrugs, turning to rinse the cloth again.

“You could be. You’re like them.”

“Not enough.”

“More than me.” This is obvious. She is their kind of beautiful, their kind of normal. “If you tried— ” She laughs at me, too. It isn’t cruel, I know instinctively. It’s pitying.
Location 1390

They’re afraid because we exist, she says. There’s nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There’s nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing — so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.
Location 1395

It doesn’t matter what we do. The problem is them.
Location 1408

It’s enough to channel the resonance, the stoning, into just one. Have to take it through the glands under the armpit, but you manage to keep it above the muscle layer; that might keep the damage from impairing your movement and breathing. You pick the left breast, to offset your missing right arm. The right breast is the one you always liked better, anyway. Prettier. And then you lie there when it’s done, still alive, hyperaware of the extra weight on your chest, too shocked to mourn. Yet.
Location 1532

"But that’s how I knew, see, you still sess the same, still quiet on the outside and rusting furious on the inside, it really is you.”
Location 1547

So much of your past keeps coming back to haunt you. You can never forget where you came from, because it won’t rusting let you. But maybe Ykka’s got the right of it. You can reject these dregs of your old self and pretend that nothing and no one else matters … or you can embrace them. Reclaim them for what they’re worth, and grow stronger as a whole.
Location 1635

“There have always been those who use despair and desperation as weapons.” This is delivered softly, as if in shame.
Location 1957

Words are too much, too indelicate, for this conversation. You were fond of Jija, after all, to the degree that your secrets allowed. You thought he loved you — and he did, to the degree that your secrets allowed. It’s just that love and hate aren’t mutually exclusive, as I first learned so very long ago. I’m sorry.
Location 2097

“Would’ve been nice if we could’ve all had normal, of course, but not enough people wanted to share. So now we all burn.”
Location 2143

Hoa says to your slumped back, “I can’t die.” You frown, jarred out of melancholy by this apparent non sequitur. Then you understand: He’s saying you won’t ever lose him. He will not crumble away like Alabaster. You can’t ever be surprised by the pain of Hoa’s loss the way you were with Corundum or Innon or Alabaster or Uche, or now Jija. You can’t hurt Hoa in any way that matters.

“It’s safe to love you,” you murmur, in startled realization.


Surprisingly, this eases the knot of silence in your chest. Not much, but … but it helps.
Location 2172

Having to go on, no matter what. No matter how tired you are.

“Move forward,” Hoa says.


“Move. Forward.”
Location 2178

Nassun can’t see his face, and must gauge his mood by his broad shoulders. (It bothers her that she does this, watching him constantly for shifts of mood or warnings of tension. It is another thing she learned from Jija. She cannot seem to shed it with Schaffa, or anyone else.)
Location 2199

It is the way of the world, but it isn’t. The things that happen to orogenes don’t just happen. They’ve been made to happen, by the Guardians, after years and years of work on their part.
Location 2243

Even though it feels wrong to yell at any adult. Yet she has also spent the past year and a half learning that adults are people, and sometimes they are wrong, and sometimes somebody should yell at them.
Location 2525

We’ve always known that the conductors failed to make us emotionless, but we … well. I thought us above such intensity of feeling. That’s what I get for being arrogant. Now here we are, lost in sensation and reaction.
Location 2575

The Niess fought, but then responded like any living thing under threat — with diaspora, sending whatever was left of themselves flying forth to take root and perhaps survive where it could.
Location 2626

How did it begin? You must understand that fear is at the root of such things.
Location 2638

But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them — even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.
Location 2641

I want her to get angry, but she merely shrugs. “That’s your choice to make — once you know enough to make an informed choice.”
Location 2682

"You aren’t what they made you to be; does that negate what you are?”
Location 2691

“I know when I see new stories being written, though.”

“I … I don’t know anything about that.”

She shrugs. “The hero of the story never does.”
Location 2787

Hjarka Leadership Castrima, who was taught from an early age to kill the few so the many might live, only touches her shoulder and says, “You’ll do what you have to do.”
Location 2876

In the absence of all else, people run on hope.
Location 2881

You know the end to this. Don’t you? How could you be here listening to this tale if you didn’t? But sometimes it is the how of a thing, not just the endgame, that matters most.
Location 2884

Was this too fast? Perhaps tragedies should not be summarized so bluntly. I meant to be merciful, not cruel. That you had to live it is the cruelty … but distance, detachment, heals. Sometimes.
Location 2901

Everyone breaks, if torture goes on long enough. The mind bears the unbearable by going elsewhere.
Location 3132

This is why, though Gallat works harder and spends more hours at the compound than anyone, and is in charge, the other conductors treat him as if he is less than what he is.
Location 3193

I have decided that I am in love, but love is a painful hotspot roil beneath the surface of me in a place where once there was stability, and I do not like it.
Location 3208

“She acts as if she can’t understand that. As if I’m the problem, not the world. I’m trying to help her!” And then he lets out a heavy breath of frustration.
Location 3237

Later, when we process all this, I will tell the others, She wants to be a person. She wants the impossible, Dushwha will say. Gallat thinks it better to own her himself, rather than allow Syl Anagist to do the same. But for her to be a person, she must stop being … ownable. By anyone.
Location 3239

Yes. They will all be right, too, my fellow tuners … but that does not mean Kelenli’s desire to be free is wrong. Or that something is impossible just because it is very, very hard.
Location 3242

Everyone likes their little luxuries, when fortune provides.
Location 3408

You waver, because you don’t really want to know … but you haven’t been a coward for some years now.
Location 3526

And you have Lerna — quietly demanding, relentless Lerna, who does not give up and does not tolerate your excuses and does not pretend that love precludes pain.
Location 3556

But that’s no different from what mothers have had to do since the dawn of time: sacrifice the present, in hopes of a better future.
Location 3566

“I think,” Hoa says slowly, “that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.”
Location 3577

It’s wrong. Everything’s wrong. Some things are so broken that they can’t be fixed. You just have to finish them off, sweep away the rubble, and start over.
Location 3763

Until now, some part of her has nursed the irrational hope that Steel, as an adult, had all the answers, including some sort of cure.
Location 3890

It’s too much to bear. She sinks into a crouch, wrapping one arm round her knees and folding the other over her head, so that Steel will not see her cry even if he knows that’s exactly what’s happening.
Location 3892

None of us got here overnight. There are stages to the process of being betrayed by your society. One is jolted from a place of complacency by the discovery of difference, by hypocrisy, by inexplicable or incongruous ill treatment.

What follows is a time of confusion — unlearning what one thought to be the truth. Immersing oneself in the new truth. And then a decision must be made.

Some accept their fate. Swallow their pride, forget the real truth, embrace the falsehood for all they’re worth — because, they decide, they cannot be worth much.

If a whole society has dedicated itself to their subjugation, after all, then surely they deserve it? Even if they don’t, fighting back is too painful, too impossible. At least this way there is peace, of a sort. Fleetingly.

The alternative is to demand the impossible. It isn’t right, they whisper, weep, shout; what has been done to them is not right. They are not inferior. They do not deserve it. And so it is the society that must change. There can be peace this way, too, but not before conflict. No one reaches this place without a false start or two.
Location 3917

She smiles at something he says, but even from fifty feet away I can see that it is a performance. Surely he can see it, too? But I am also beginning to understand that people believe what they want to believe, not what is actually there to be seen and touched and sessed.
Location 4012

But for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress. And now, if nothing else is done, Syl Anagist must again find a way to fission its people into subgroupings and create reasons for conflict among them. There’s not enough magic to be had just from plants and genegineered fauna; someone must suffer, if the rest are to enjoy luxury.
Location 4195

We are such small, hard-to-grasp creatures, otherwise. Such insignificant vermin, apart from our unfortunate tendency to sometimes make ourselves dangerously significant.
Location 4261

The difference between what the Earth wanted and what we wanted was merely a matter of scale. But which is the way the world ends? We tuners would be dead; the distinction mattered little to me in that moment. It’s never wise to ask such a question of people who have nothing to lose.
Location 4269

As big as the world is, Nassun is beginning to realize it’s also really small. The same stories, cycling around and around. The same endings, again and again. The same mistakes eternally repeated.
Location 4331

He watches as you stand and stretch, and it’s a thing you’ll never fully understand or be comfortable with — the admiration in his gaze. He makes you feel like a better person than you are.
Location 4341

“Would you be coming, if you weren’t headwoman?” Lerna asks. It’s quiet. He always drops his biggest rocks like that, quietly and out of nowhere.
Location 4407

Sounds like he's related to Kris.

Impossible to delude oneself in a moment like this. Impossible to see only what one wants to see, when the power to change the world ricochets through mind and soul and the spaces between cells; oh, I learned this long before both of you.
Location 4799

I don’t bother to explain that just because something is horrible does not make it any less true.
Location 4960

You say, in an echo of the voice you once had, “What is it that you want?”

“Only to be with you,” I say.


I adjust myself to a posture of humility, with head bowed and one hand over my chest. “Because that is how one survives eternity,” I say, “or even a few years. Friends. Family. Moving with them. Moving forward.”
Location 4988

The Obelisk Gate

Book Notes

This is book 2 of The Broken Earth trilogy, of which all three have one the Hugo award. This one begins a few weeks after The Fifth Season ended, and continues the tale.

In this continuation, we know who the characters are. The book is no less intense, magical, heart-breaking, confusing, or interesting for that knowledge.

We learn about Nassun, Essun's child who was referenced in the first book, but mostly as a ghost to chase, a goal for Essun. We begin to learn about when the seasons began. We learn that Schaffa can change, and about the Guardians.

If you read the first one, keep reading. Also strongly recommended, as, as soon as I finished this one, I started the next one.

Like keeping to like is the old way, but races and nations haven’t been important for a long time. Communities of purpose and diverse specialization are more efficient, as Old Sanze proved.
Location 270

Complaining about nothing doesn’t seem like coping to you, but okay.
Location 310

That’s when you no longer need an answer to the question. There is such a thing as too much loss. Too much has been taken from you both—taken and taken and taken, until there’s nothing left but hope, and you’ve given that up because it hurts too much. Until you would rather die, or kill, or avoid attachments altogether, than lose one more thing.
Location 1271

She feels a flash of anger that this exaggeration is why her father looks at her with such hate sometimes. But the anger is nebulous, directionless; she hates the world, not anyone in particular. That’s a lot to hate.
Location 1802

"I heard of one that asks an old man in the sky to keep them alive every time they go to sleep. People need to believe there’s more to the world than there is.”

And the world is just shit.
Location 1991

There’s no need to imagine the planet as some malevolent force seeking vengeance. It’s a rock. This is just how life is supposed to be: terrible and brief and ending in—if you’re lucky—oblivion.
Location 1993

"But just because you can’t see or understand a thing doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you."

You know that’s true.
Location 1999

Focusing on what you can, instead of mourning what you can’t.
Location 2021

So sad. Nassun decides he would not have meant it back then, even if he’d done something bad.
Location 2281

But allies are needed for specific tasks, and they are not the same thing as friends.
Location 2283

Things have been awkward between you and him lately. He’s made his interest clear, and you haven’t responded in kind. You haven’t rejected him, either, though, thus the awkwardness. At one point a few weeks back, Alabaster grumbled that you should just roll the boy already, because you were always crankier when you were horny. You called him an ass and changed the subject.
Location 4120

You keep thinking about Alabaster, too, though. Is this grief? You hated him, loved him, missed him for years, made yourself forget him, found him again, loved him again, killed him. The grief does not feel like what you feel about Uche, or Corundum, or Innon; those are rents in your soul that still seep blood. The loss of Alabaster is simply… a thinning of who you are.
Location 4123

“Because you don’t want to hear it, babe,” Hjarka says. “Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. You like things neat. Life’s not neat.”

“You like things messy.”

“Ykka likes things explained,” Ykka says pointedly.
Location 4176

You blink, a little thrown and a lot insulted. But… she’s right. Comms survive through a careful balance of trust and fear. Your impatience is tilting the balance too far out of true.
Location 4193

You’ve observed her before when she does orogeny, but this is the first time she’s tried to be precise about something. And—it’s completely not what you expected. She can’t shift a pebble, but she can slice out corners and lines so neatly that the end result looks machine-carved. It’s better than you could have done, and suddenly you realize: Maybe she couldn’t shift a pebble because who the rust needs to shift pebbles? That’s the Fulcrum’s way of testing precision. Ykka’s way is to simply be precise, where it is practical to do so. Maybe she failed your tests because they were the wrong tests.
Location 4270

Perspective shift.

The burns were killing him already; that you finished it was mercy. Eventually you’ll believe that.
Location 4325

“Why do you stay with her? Are you just… hungry?” I resist the urge to crush his head.

“I love her, of course.” There; I’ve managed a civil tone.

“Of course.” Lerna’s voice has grown soft.

Of course.
Location 4543

Sleep, my love. Heal. I’ll stand guard over you, and be at your side when you set forth again. Of course. Death is a choice. I will make certain of that, for you.
Location 4548

“The destruction of one’s enemies, of course. A small and selfish purpose that feels great, in the moment—though not without consequence.”
Location 4575

“Father Earth fought back,” she says. “As one does, against those who seek to enslave. That’s understandable, isn’t it?”
Location 4577

The way of the world isn’t the strong devouring the weak, but the weak deceiving and poisoning and whispering in the ears of the strong until they become weak, too.
Location 4579

Hate is tiring. Nihilism is easier, though she does not know the word and will not for a few years. It’s what she’s feeling, regardless: an overwhelming sense of the meaninglessness of it all.
Location 4591

His icewhite gaze lifts to her, and she searches his expression with her belly clenched against imminent pain. There is only anguish in his face. Fear for her, sorrow on her behalf, alarm at her bloodied shoulder. Wariness and protective anger, as he focuses on Steel. He is still her Schaffa. The
Location 4647

Smoke In The Sun

Book Notes

Okay, book two of two of The Flame In The Mist series. For which I would like to say, "Good."

Because I wouldn't continue reading this series.

The first book has the protagonist, Hattori Mariko, escaping an assassination attempt and going off to hide in the woods to track down who ordered her death. At the end of the book, her brother and her betrothed found her and together brought her back to The Palace™. Technically Her Choice™ but in reality a false dichotomy, whatever.

So, now we follow Mariko in palace intrique. We see her with little political saavy navigate royalty and servants, making alliances and insulting some. During all of this, Her Love™ is in danger.

I was sufficiently engaged with the characters in the last book to read this one, but a subsequent book in the series likely won't be interesting to me.

If you like teen romance adventure with a medieval Japanese twist, sure. Otherwise, skip the books.

She’d never known the right words to do so before. Never known how to wield the right weapons. But ingenuity could be a weapon, in all its forms. Her mind could be a sword. Her voice could be an axe.
Page 16

But time had taught Kanako that what was expected rarely came to pass. Death always collected its due. The only thing that remained steadfastly true was power. The power you had. The power you gave. The power you concealed.
Page 33

“You may ask whatever you wish, But I do not owe you a response.”
Page 49

“It appears insults do have an effect on your brother. How predictable.”

“Insults are indeed a base form of intimidation,” Roku replied
Page 51

There — hovering in the darkness, with Ōkami by her side — Mariko realized that every person she’d ever met, from the smallest of children to the most notorious of thieves, had a life as intricate and significant as that of an emperor or a samurai or an elegant lady of the court. Not once in her seventeen years had she heard a member of the nobility discuss this. Those who served them had been born beneath unlucky stars and could never share the same sky, no matter how hard they might wish for it.
Page 78

Well, hello, Sonder.

“You do not know what it means to be happy,” the empress said. “Happiness is not a thing to be found here in the imperial court. We take moments of pleasure. Collect them and keep them tight in our chests. And we hope they are enough to fill whatever holes our truths leave behind.”
Page 86

Back at her father’s province, she had known people like the empress. Women and men who took perverse pleasure in exacting unnecessary revenge on others.
Page 94

When Ōkami spoke, his voice was soft. Apologetic. “That was . . . dramatic.” He sighed. “But I suppose I am to blame for that.” All trace of sarcasm had vanished.

“I have no excuse for provoking you, especially when you came to help me.”

“No.” Mariko shook her head, her right hand trembling as she brushed a tendril of hair behind one ear. “My behavior is mine and mine alone. You are not to blame. I let my anger take hold, and anger is a temperamental beast.”
Page 143

It had taken her losing everything she knew to finally understand. Feeling pain and sorrow was not at all a sign of weakness. It was a sign of love.
Page 145

“Our deepest truths are usually the hardest to conceal.”
Page 151

Perhaps this was what it meant to feel love. To be together and apart in the same instant.
Page 152

Leaders needed to know what lay around the next bend, even when moving through uncharted territory. A follower need only concern himself with each of his steps. Each of his breaths. He could move forward, oblivious to the path ahead. Trusting in those left to make the decisions.
Page 157

“I see mystery and sadness. Anger. Not necessarily because you were born a woman”—Mariko smiled in obvious remembrance of what Yumi had said not too long ago—“ but more because you have always been treated as less than what you are.”
Page 204

“The best jokes end with shit or death.”
Page 207

Okay, I need a t-shirt with this on it.

Loss had taught her yet another lesson. Real love was more than a moment. It was everything that happened after. Chaos in one instant, simplicity in the next. Everything and nothing in the space of a simple breath. It was clarity, sharp and numbing, like a winter’s morning.
Page 209

Ōkami did not cry, not even when he was sure no one was there to bear witness. He would never allow such weakness to overcome him.
Page 308


Ōkami hated heroes more than anything else. As a boy, he’d concluded that heroes cared more about how the world perceived them than they did about those they’d left behind.
Page 309

It had moved Raiden that one of her requests was for justice absent malice. He longed for the ability to convince his brother of the merit behind this. His brother’s idea of justice made Raiden’s flesh crawl as though he’d waded into a pool of maggots.
Page 315

The army she’d amassed in her enchanted world, biding time for the right moment to strike. Some of its ranks were young. Some were elderly. Some were infirmed. Minamoto Roku’s imperial soldiers would hesitate before striking them down. And in the heat of battle, to hesitate was to die. Many more were
Page 327

It was not up to his mother to save him. Just as it was not up to his father to give him answers. That was not the way of life. Only Ōkami could do what needed to be done. It was time for him to forgive his past. Not forget it. Only a fool would forget such things. But if he could not let go of the demons in his past, how could he ever hope to embrace his greatest fear?
Page 335

This troubling sentiment did not stop men from looking at Yumi with covetous glances. A part of Kenshin disliked the way their eyes followed her every motion. As though her beauty were a thing to be consumed.
Page 349

“Because if no one cares about what is right or wrong in the seat of our empire—the very seat of our justice—then all we hold dear is lost.”
Page 384

It was a strange feeling for Ōkami. To hate someone with such fire and know all at once that his death would bring Ōkami no solace.
Page 395

Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Book Notes

I have the book pile problem of having 5 books due at the library in the next eight days, which means that I have less than two days to read each of these books. Which is unfortunate, as Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a book I want to linger over, sit with, ponder. If I want to read these other 4 books before they return to the library, however, I'm not going to linger.

Cal recommended this book when we were at XOXO this year. We were exchanging reading lists (hoo boy, I thought I was doing well at a hundred books a year, I read at half Cal's pace), and he suggested this book. It's heavy, he warned me, don't read it if you're not in a good place.

Which was good advice.

The book is a dystopian future, science fiction, murder mystery novel. It is also a book about grief, about avoiding an all consuming loss, until you can't, and then dealing with it.

Which is why the timing of the book was great. That and after five non-fiction books in a row, I was ready for some fiction.

Anyway, the main character, Blaxton, investigates deaths in the Archive, a fully immersive reconstruction of the world, stitched together from all the digital recordings available of a given area and time. Most people have implants to immerse in this reconstruction, but of course said world is full of ads, because, yeah, that's the way it works, we can't have nice things.

Blaxton comes across an unreported death, becomes obsessed with solving her murder, and his already unravelled life come undone.

The plot is so well done. The grief and heart-ache is well conveyed. The whole plot is well put together, lots of early clues for the reader, along with "ohhhhhh" at the reveal. I strongly recommend this book, if you're in a good place to read a dystopian future, science fiction, murder mystery novel. If you're not in a good place, wait until you are, then read it.

The Buy, Fuck, Sell feed’s leading with a new leaked sex tape of President Meecham, the ten-year anniversary of Pittsburgh demoted to postjump news. PRESIDENT MEECHAM REVEALED AS DORM ROOM SLUT! MEECH’S PEACHES EXPOSED IN TEEN SEX SCANDAL!
Page 15

Yes, where the world is going, this is a reasonable projection of the presidency.

She touches herself and the talking heads comment: Everywhere, Americans have been given the choice between Love and Filth, and they have uniformly chosen Filth.
Page 16

How prescient of Sweterlitsch, though I suspect he wasn't expecting to be so acccurate so soon.

“Shit . . . Oh, shit. I’m sorry—”

“It’s all right to cry,” says the leader. “Let it out. Talk with us, share your story. Hearing each other’s stories helps us to understand we’re not alone. We were all away from friends and family when it happened. We’ve all lost everything. We haven’t been uniquely chosen to suffer—”

“I’m sorry,” I end up saying.
Page 31

“What does it matter if I die?”

“You don’t want to die,” he says, like he’s explaining simple math. “You want to see your wife again, you want to relive all the years you were blessed to have with her, and you want to somehow compensate for all the years you aren’t able to spend with her. You’re here because you want to remember your wife through healthy immersion. You want to live so you can grow old with the memories of your wife. You want her to live on through you. You don’t want to die.”

“You don’t understand,” I tell him, knowing that he does understand, that they all understand.
Page 32

“I schedule regular times to visit my memories of Kitty in the Archive,” he says. “Kitty was my wife of thirty-nine years. Katherine."
Page 53

I cracked up at this.

“We’ve been making memory maps,” Simka explained. “You draw the house you grew up in and write in everything you can remember about it, every detail. You’d be surprised how much you remember when you’re filling in a memory map, the specificity of the details. The kids never have enough room to write everything they want, so we journal, too—”
Page 59

This is an interesting exercise, by the way.

“Addiction and recovery from depression are difficult. There isn’t a quick fix—even complete dialysis and Adware reconditioning don’t treat the underlying causes of your addiction. You’ll have to work at this, Dominic. As they say, ‘You’re gonna carry that weight—’”
Page 62

People drift through the café, once captured inadvertently on security cameras or retinal cams, their profiles pulled from cloud storage, archived in the City because of the Right to Remember Act and used to populate these places, even these minor corners of the City.
Page 69

This idea cracks me up, the Right to Remember Act. After fighting so long for the Right to be Forgotten.

What would our lives have been like? Never sure, but I try to be realistic with my regrets, memories like these affording me a window, I think, to my life as it was never lived.
Page 70

Faces in passing cars are only blurs—petals on a wet, black bough—impressions inadvertently captured in Peyton’s background and sculpted here as part of the environment. These faces unnerve me. Faceless. I feel like they try to catch my attention. I feel like they want me to notice them, to notice them specifically, to turn my attention from Peyton and fill in their features with some streak of memory, but there’s nothing to remember about them, no details or memories I have that can flesh them out. I’ve never known these faces and they pass away in the peripherals.
Page 100

Much of politics is simply manipulating broad symbols.
Page 124

“When I talk with people who are suffering,” says Timothy, “they often tell me that they’re comforted because Christ associated Himself with sinners. Prostitutes and taxmen. Drinkers. The thief who was crucified with Him.

My patients often tell me that they’re comforted because no matter how depraved their lives, no matter what damage they’ve done to themselves or others, Christ will still save them. Christ will still save them.

They think they will somehow transcend the world, somehow continue sinning but find a spiritual perfection when the time comes because they believe their soul is pure so it doesn’t matter if their body is corrupt.

I tell them that Christ doesn’t accept us as sinners. We might be sinners when Christ calls us, but He doesn’t accept us as sinners. He demands that we abandon our lives to follow Him, to become like Him.

That doesn’t mean turning our backs to the world—it means just the opposite. He demanded the twelve abandon their lives in order so they might fully embrace the incarnation. He demands this of us—”
Page 129

We were alone that evening, coming to terms with our loss, with a miscarriage just like the thousands of other miscarriages that occur every day, every year, but ours so unlike the others because it was our daughter, our child that never was.
Page 147

“Let her go,” said Albion.


“Let her go,” she said. “The dead deserve their rest—”
Page 246

Night by the time we drive through Ohio, the landscape changing to something as forgotten but familiar as my mother’s voice—flatlands giving way to the warp of fields and the hills that will become the mountains of what was once Pittsburgh.
Page 258

I understand the feeling of returning to the landscape as familiar as my mother's voice.

She waved as the bus pulled away and I walked home—the city quiet, everything shrouded in a profound white silence. I was so happy that night—an ecstatic contentment in that silence, a feeling like I’d come home, like I’d discovered where home was.
Page 270


The doctors keep me updated—there’s a trio, one in Boston, the other two in Mumbai, faces on HD screens mounted on a roving turret. A doctor rolls into my room every other day or so, but since the turret webcam’s loose on its mounting, the doctors rarely face me when one of them speaks.
Page 316

This image seems just so right: teleprescence but broken.

“You could sit back and make it seem like you’re right there with them—”

“We’re watching the follies of man,” she says. “Why would I want to be closer than I am now? Besides, I got better stuff to do, like teaching you to piss for yourself—”
Page 317

Modern Loss

Book Notes

Things have been rough as of late.

A while ago, I recognized that what I'm going through is grief, and that I have not given myself a chance to grieve the large number of losses I have had this year. I need to grieve, I need to process a large amount of non-classical loss, and let it go. One doesn't process grief on demand, no matter how much our loved ones or society want us to do so. However, having those who have also grieved, who have also had losses, guide us through the darkness that is grief, hold our hands, and tell us, "this f---ing sucks, it f---ing hurts, and maybe it'll hurt less in the future, maybe it won't, but I need you to know that you aren't the only person experiencing this loss, you have my, your, our permission to grieve," helps in unexplainable ways.

Unfortunately, this is not the book about grief that I needed. It is A book about grief. It is a series of essays from people who have been through loss and grief and have in some measure passed through the pain, who are turning around to reach back and help those just starting the journey. It is a good book about grief, in that it talks a lot about grief as experienced in modern times, about things that aren't "classically" okay to grieve about.

But, again, not the one I needed.

The book originated from a website where people could express their grief and find support. The book is an extension of that website, many of the essays taken from the content of the website. Which is fine, it's a good book if you're a grief voyeur. I am not. I did not enjoy reading about other people's pain. I was/am looking for a book on processing my grief.

Anyone who is able to relate to more than a couple of the essays in this book has had a shit hand dealt to them, and that really sucks.

Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner
Modern Loss has helped to demystify a process with a long arc. News flash: you live with grief 24/7, forever, and endure endless triggers along the way. But we wanted people to realize, along with the stark realities of having to go through life without someone important, that they aren’t broken, that life goes on, and that it can actually be quite terrific—even if it’s impossible to believe in the moment.
Page xviii

A Wake, by Anthony King
“It’s weird that she’s dead.” Is it weird that she’s dead or weird that she died? Die. Died. Dying. It’s such a small word for something so definite. Or maybe it’s exactly the right size word for something so brief.
Page 13

The Second Third Child, by Eric Meyer
We still mourn that decision. And that’s the worst part: you can make the right decision, the very best decision you know how to make for yourself and your family, and still have cause to mourn.
Page 25

Mother Figure, by Elizabeth Percer
Usually, when we reflect on how love doesn’t play by the rules, we are referring to its poor timing, or its unrequited victims, or its failure to sustain anything beyond the rush of infatuation.
Page 36

Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
Then there’s the passing of time, which hasn’t so much healed as it has taught me how better to coexist with my grief.
Page 46

Are You My Papi?, by Mathew Rodriguez
Sometimes, I think about the maxim “Daughters marry their fathers.” It speaks to the desire to find a man we trust, even if it’s a partner for the night. We want to feel his trust—we want for it to be sturdy and familiar, like a knit blanket or macaroni and cheese.
Page 94

Are You My Papi?, by Mathew Rodriguez
The yearning for human connection, whether two hours or a few sweet months, is the desire to be taught, to be shown new things, to hear new stories, to get a slightly widened worldview.
Page 96

What’s Good Enough Now, by LaNeah “Starshell” Menzies
But long before the moving trucks pulled away, leaving our two sets of dishes under the same roof, our relationship had been suffering thanks to an old worry of his: he felt I didn’t love him, or at least couldn’t express that love. Funny thing is, I loved him more than anything. Cheesy, I know, but it was the kind of romance that shows you the future, the sun, moon, and stars, when you look into someone’s eyes.
Page 97

What’s Good Enough Now, by LaNeah “Starshell” Menzies
If the whole point of getting into a relationship is to fall completely and madly and utterly in love to the point where you feel like you can’t live without someone, but you know that you can, are you able to love completely?
Page 100

Taboo Times Two, by Alice Radosh
Friends and family from around the country and Europe came to mourn together. The loss was enormous, and it was not mine alone. Night after night the house was crowded with people who hugged me and cried along with me, who packed my freezer with casseroles and offered to sleep over, should I want the company. Sympathy cards jammed the narrow box at my rural post office, and more than a hundred stories filled Bart’s memorial website—stories from colleagues at the college where Bart taught, from squash partners and friends at the local table tennis club, from total strangers he tended to as a volunteer EMT, from a heartbroken granddaughter. Loved ones called daily to check in, and my adult children urged me to come for an extended visit.
Page 103

The Promise, by Mattie J. Bekink
I blamed myself for Elouisa’s death. I succumbed to feelings of failure. My body, tasked only with seeing her safely into this world, had failed.
Page 112

Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
These fellow travelers understood that there exists a pain so profound that it becomes embedded in your psyche, your personality, maybe even your DNA.
Page 124

Dad-die Issues, by Yassir Lester
I had no idea how to make a Windsor knot on a necktie, so I watched a YouTube video. YouTube could single-handedly raise the fatherless children of this country, and it probably is already doing so.
Page 134

The Dead-Brother Code Switch, by Rachel Sklar
as you grow up into an adult, no one knows your baggage unless you share it.
Page 141

The Dead-Brother Code Switch, by Rachel Sklar
If you weren’t the one who died, then you eventually have to figure out how to keep living. And part of that is figuring out what kind of access you want others to have.
Page 141

Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer
This was my first encounter with the many knots that form with all the stuff, trivial and critical, sentimental and surprising, valuable and not, that loved ones leave behind. My mom’s closet, a place where I once made gleeful discoveries of things like her ivory-leather jewelry case and red disco-era stilettos, became a place where everything was for the taking, and yet none of it seemed okay to have without her.
Page 159

The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
as I went through the rituals of laying them to rest, well-meaning people assured me that I would “always have the memories.” But almost immediately those memories started to fade. First their voices, then their smells, the punch line to one of my dad’s stupid jokes; and after that weird period where I thought I saw them everywhere, I found that the images in my mind of their faces had lost their crispness.
Page 175

The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
In grief we forget, and it’s terrible.
Page 175

The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
Surely my parents would not have wanted me to feel bogged down by their possessions, but neither would they have wanted me to forfeit the comforts to be had in keeping them around.
Page 175

The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
In the last few weeks of her life, when everything she told me took on an outsize importance in my mind, my mom explained that it was important to preserve bad memories along with the good ones.
Page 178

Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer
But I do know that no “like” can replace a conversation, or a hug, or shared double martinis.
Page 198

My Husband’s Death Went Viral, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt, by Nora McInerny
Everyone will lose somebody they love. And I don’t say that as a threat, I say it as a fact. Your parents are going to die. Your lover is going to die. The children you don’t even have yet, someday they will die.
Page 204

SECRETS: What They Didn’t Tell Us, and What We Aren’t Telling Others, Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
Even in war, where stray bullets and car bombs kill indiscriminately, people look for patterns that don’t exist to justify why some were snuffed out and others were not.
Page 228

Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
But this attempt at rationalization doesn’t make the loss less sad; it just makes everyone else feel less vulnerable. At least until their made-up rules are broken.
Page 229

Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
There are the secrets about the deceased that the grief-stricken keep from others out of respect or shame or fear of blame or because there remains a taboo of speaking ill of the dead. In our posthumous retelling, we strike their questionable politics or destructive addictions or debilitating phobias or that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Page 229

Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
We are imperfect people mourning imperfect people imperfectly. But these imperfections make us no less deserving of empathy and loving expressions of grief.
Page 230

My Dead Husband, the Serial Adulterer, by Robyn Woodman
Just because someone is dead, that doesn’t mean they didn’t suck. It just means you’re not supposed to talk about it.
Page 234

My Dead Husband, the Serial Adulterer, by Robyn Woodman
Just because someone sucked, that doesn’t mean they can’t be remembered fondly . . . eventually.
Page 235

Practice Imperfect, by Rachel M. Ward
But let’s focus on how you’re a nice person and you’re crediting my better angels. Which is why I am sorry to report: my angels are dicks. Trust me. I hang with them all the time, and they’re always doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
Page 237

Practice Imperfect, by Rachel M. Ward
Why do these losses always seem like secrets? Why are they always confessions?
Page 239

From a Purple Room to the Obama White House, by Marisa Renee Lee
know what real fear feels like. Fear that keeps you up at night, knowing morning will bring you one day closer to being without the person you love. Fear of the day death knocks on the door, and knowing it’s your job to help usher Mom between two worlds.
Page 285

ABSENCE + TIME: What Comes Later, Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
It was an affirmation that our losses hadn’t kept us from finding happiness, even as we wished that our loved ones were there to see it and share it. It was an admission that yes, the first year is the hardest, except for, in their own way, all the others.
Page 306

David, by Elisa Albert
For a long time, I saw that there were two kinds of people: those who had come into contact with death and those who had been spared contact with death. Obviously it was only a matter of time until the latter joined the former, but in the meantime how clueless and shallow and silly the spared-contact-with-death seemed!
Page 310

David, by Elisa Albert
Amy Hempel’s story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.”
Page 310

David, by Elisa Albert
You were an astrophysicist, Dave. You know that energy cannot be destroyed, only changed, transformed.
Page 311

Considering the Alternative, by Artis Henderson
but anticipating a thing and actually experiencing it are very different.
Page 315

Creative Quest

Book Notes

I am unsure why I picked up this book, or where it was recommended to me. I thought it was in a group chat, but I can't find the reference, and I really do not know why I picked up this book. There are a couple books on creativity that I would have put in my reading list before this book.

Which isn't to say this book was a bad book, quite the contrary, it is a fun book to read. You totally see Questlove's personality in this book, and how much fun he is having. Life isn't all about fun, of course, but if you love your work, love what you do, the rough spots can be endured.

This book isn't anything deep, it isn't anything you haven't heard before if you're older than 22 and have been creating in any form. The book is, however, a fun read. It is a good "rah rah rah!" book. It is a good "keep it up!" book. It is a good "you got this!" book. If you're not stuck stuck, but are maybe a bit stuck, and want to distract yourself, tell yourself you're moving ahead by reading a book on creativity, this book is a good one to read.

If you're stuck stuck, shut up, stop reading, and go do the work. If you can't create, you can at least do the work.

I enjoyed reading the book, and recommend my style of reading books like this: listen to the audio book when you're walking outside, running, doing dishes, knitting, and read the actual book when you have the time to sit and read or are walking on the treadmill reading.

Be receptive. Be ready to hear your future in a parking lot behind a Pharcyde concert or at a church in England.
Page 63

This makes more sense in the context of the book, actually.

Here comes the final fundamental point of this section: Be sure to summarize what you’re learning. Isolate your insight and turn it into a short thesis statement.
Page 63

This is a way of most learning: actively play with the knowledge to make it your own. That's what all the exercises at the end of the chapter are about.

Where creativity is concerned, pure originality is at least partially a myth. People are heavily invested in that myth because they have egos, or because they are selling a brand. But it’s not fully real.
Page 68

In the end, one of the most important things to remember about influence is that it’s never the same. Time changes artists, and time changes the art they make, and time changes the way they look at the forces that shape that art.
Page 68

He made everyone around him feel that he was genuinely in awe of who they were as a person and an artist. He was able not only to acknowledge that he was giving you creative energy, but to behave as if you were giving him energy. Whether it was sincere or strategic, this reversed the circuit. It made him young again in some way, made you older, but also made you question the entire hierarchy. It was, in its own way, extremely cool, and extremely motivational.
Page 70

I was re-creating a person who had re-created me, and I couldn’t even be me as well as he had.
Page 71

Play it backward. We see things one way, mostly. We are at the mercy of common paradigms. That’s why conventional wisdom has such a hold on us.
Page 79

Embrace conspiracy, just for a minute. This exercise is something different. Take a piece of art that you love and invert it. If it’s a painting or a photograph, it’s easy. Just turn it upside down.
Page 79

Backward asks all questions, and answers them, too.
Page 79

Random plucking This is a related strategy, but for it you’ll need a specific kind of book: a dictionary.
Page 80

Open it up to a random page and see what you can do with it.

Collaborations work best this way, when there’s a mutual desire to see what the other side adds. You know that what you’re making on your own has value, but the sum is more than the parts, and every part knows it.
Page 102

I'd almost argue that it ONLY works this way, it's a fight when it doesn't.

... cognitive disinhibition, and how a Harvard psychologist developed a theory that creative people filter the world around them differently, or rather less. They see too much. It gets in their head. They then have no choice but to make things.
Page 104

For bits of both artists to survive into the final product, they need to make themselves visible to one another, and to themselves. Every successful collaboration is also a fight for your own creative life.
Page 110

It can be difficult to deep-dive inside yourself and figure out all the things about you that work and don’t work, let alone the things that work and don’t work in collaboration with someone else.
Page 111

Be receptive to ideas that sound strange. Maybe be receptive to those ideas especially, because the tendency is to be dismissive. When you give a fair hearing to a strange idea, you might loosen up your own idea to the point where it’s significantly improved.
Page 112

One special form of communication is praise. You don’t have to be insincere about it. No one likes to have smoke blown at them. But you can be honest about what is working in the creative process.
Page 113

The most common problems in collaboration, in my experience, revolve around resentment.
Page 113

Collaborations, even those that are pleasant in the process, can be unpleasant in the product.
Page 115

Just make sure that everyone’s clear. Oh, and get to meetings on time.
Page 115

Oh wow yes. Don't disrespect others by arriving late.

This is a thornier issue, and potentially a more profound one: collaboration can not only allow you to place yourself in close proximity with other creatives and watch what happens, but it can fundamentally change you.
Page 115

Reading is a different experience than when we were young — each word offers the possibility for linking out to something else, and the main text just doesn’t have the same gravity it once did.
Page 125

Online vs books.

Foreman noted that while our minds hold more information than before, they are more than ever a series of connections to information outside of our minds.
Page 125

Everyone agrees that creativity is a privileged form of thinking.
Page 125

If a question comes into perfect focus, answering it isn’t a creative act anymore. It’s more a matter of information retrieval. The Internet, if you believe Foreman, if you believe Carr, is a menace to creative questioning. The second a question comes into view, the research process starts. We begin our research, our search for facts to satisfy questions, almost immediately.
Page 125

I have personally noticed the way that research sprints ahead of idea formation.
Page 125

Creative minds know and remember a lot, but that also means that they have to know, and remember, selectively. One of the things that’s being lost, along with the ability to really focus and concentrate on the bottom of that well, is the ability to establish hierarchy, a confident sense of knowing which events (or ideas) are the big planets and which ones are the small moons orbiting around them.
Page 127

Reduce Reuse Recycle

It wasn’t that he couldn’t go back to the well. He went back there. But when he went back, it was dry.


He’s talked plenty about that period. His first album had summed up everything that he thought and felt. He had found a way to express his entire soul. That’s why they call it soul music.
Page 133

A.k.a. "he had one story to tell."

I think that his block was more about having emptied out the tank in a very comprehensive and exhausting way, then promoting that album around the clock for two years. It was difficult to get other things to float to the surface. So he did the next best thing, or rather another best thing, which is to make something that is already made. I recommend this to any creative person in any discipline.
Page 134

People with limited ideas of things call this cheating. It’s not. It’s inspired imitation. Making your own version of existing works keeps you on your toes. It keeps your machinery humming along.
Page 134

When I think about its effect, I think I can distill it down to one short, sharp piece of advice: change your materials.
Page 150

Material changes matter because they change the process of creative production.
Page 151

I don’t have much time to be distracted. But I feel the pull of it all the time. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t have a little hum at the base of my skull reminding me to check e-mail or Twitter or read the latest gossip about the celebrity couple of the moment...
Page 151

I stop. I shut the computer, or at least shut my eyes for a second so that I can’t feel the computer. I let the distraction become boredom. And when the distraction shifts into boredom, that’s the seed of something creative. On the face of it, that doesn’t make sense. Boredom seems like the least creative feeling. It seems like a numbness. But it’s actually a way of clearing space for a new idea to spring back up.
Page 159

But Brodsky has a trick up his sleeve. He says that when you realize you’re insignificant, you can start feeling two things: passion and pain. Passion is the way you fight meaninglessness. If you were significant, you wouldn’t necessarily need passion at all. You could just sit back and experience things as they came.

And pain is the acceptance of the truth of that insignificance. Boredom, that sense of being disconnected, is what makes you bounce back with a renewed commitment. That’s what Brodsky was saying about Wilson Pickett, even though he wasn’t talking about Wilson Pickett at all.

Let yourself go to the sense of being disconnected and meaningless. Let it wash over you and drown you a little bit before you come up gasping for air. Creativity is a fight against that insignificance.
Page 160

Whatever your personal preference, no matter how significant or how trivial, if it’s a source of pleasure, and in denying yourself that pleasure you’ll be entering a state where you think about it all the time, then you are working against your own creativity. You might think certain things are a distraction, but going without them can become a larger distraction if you are thinking all the time about the time when you will be returned to them, or them to you.
Page 167

Make your environment reflective of your tastes. Eliminate distractions, including the distraction of being without any of the distractions you need.
Page 167

The first and most obvious effect is that technology drives a stake into the heart of originality.
Page 174

Late in the set, as people are getting worn out, I’ll downshift to a slower song. But not just any slower song — Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” Everyone knows the song, but think of how it starts: Daryl Stuermer, who played guitar with George Duke, playing that buzzing chord, and Collins layering up keyboards and drums. But the moment everyone knows is later, when the crashing rubbery drums come in: da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. Collins got the effect by playing while the talkback circuit was still activated—it’s the technique I outlined in an earlier chapter, being open to the possibility that the accidents might be better than the plan—and then Hugh Padgham, his coproducer, recorded it using compressed and gated microphones. It’s the sound that drives an audience crazy.
Page 179

Okay, I am dying at this point because as I read this part of the book, this video came out, and I am DYING LAUGHING.

You have to throw things away so that there is some value implied by the act of keeping other things.
Page 183

On a podcast I heard the comedian Kate Micucci talking about how when she was young, and an aspiring visual artist, she used to go to museums often. She said something about standing in front of paintings. She said she didn’t give them all the same amount of time. How could she? That’s not how you visit a museum: stand in front of work 1, count to twenty, stand in front of work 2, count to twenty, repeat until dissatisfied. No: you should go through a museum at a clip until something demands your attention. Keep on the move until you are asked by a work to stop moving.
Page 185

The goal of creativity may be to learn to present yourself to others, in part, but it’s not to present yourself at the expense of truth. The second you become your own product, you’re heading down a chute rather than up a ladder.
Page 188

When we focus on those tiny details, we lose sight of the larger issues. We just do. It’s just the way it goes. And when it comes to making art, both of them have to be working hand in hand. You need to think of the small things, no question. You need to be able to get that pitched-down cymbal just right. But as I’ve said a hundred other times in a hundred other ways, “just right” isn’t necessarily about flawlessness. Sometimes it’s about the flaws. It’s about letting that sound go a little flat or a little wobbly, about letting it carry humanity. The era of curation, which is the era we’re in, the time of picking, which is the time that we’re in, isn’t an excuse to selectively edit our humanity and show the world a happy face (or a fresh face or a put-together face) that doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with our essential real
Page 190

I want to suggest a correction: for every hour you spend doing something, spend at least a few minutes doing something unrelated. That’s Questlove’s corollary to Gladwell’s Ten Thousand Hours. Getting into a groove can be dangerously close to getting into a rut.
Page 202

There are many stresses in the creative life, so it’s important to limit the self-inflicted ones.
Page 212

Bert gets to see how his work is experienced both from the inside and from the outside. He gets to look at it as a creator and he gets to watch others immerse themselves in it. That’s the tension that needs to be preserved for good creative art. Never forget that you are working for your own satisfaction, but also never forget that others will occupy the creative work that you have made. Both perspectives need to exist in your mind all the time.
Page 225

Commercial art has another great component, which is the deadline. When you’re making something for yourself, how do you know when it’s done? Sometimes you don’t. And some of those times you don’t even want to know. The process is what is nourishing you, and to bring it to a close would defeat the point.
Page 225

But enthusiasm isn’t the same as organized and productive critical feedback.
Page 231

Dave was interested in the way that technology has given people too many easy ways to deliver feedback without similarly equipping artists to resist it. In
Page 232

Dave said that in the restaurant business, there used to be a very well-understood process. You would voice your displeasure to your server, who would in turn tell the chef or the owner. Sometimes the chef or owner would come out and address the diner’s concern, or at least assess it. Sometimes there would be an apology. Sometimes the meal would be comped. “No one likes a bad review,” Dave said, “but that kind of dialogue is something that everyone got used to.” Online commentary doesn’t require any of that. An unhappy customer can pay his bill, leave, and then rant and rave about the restaurant hours later, from his home. The restaurateur has no way of hearing the complaint in a way that allows him to do anything about it—at least for that customer.
Page 232

This. Wow, so much this.

There are at least two lessons to take away from stories of failure. The first, of course, is not to be afraid of it. Any career, if it is to be a long career, includes a mix of successes and failures, and it should. That mix is oxygen-rich. It keeps you breathing.
Page 245

What does failure do to an artist? It can mess with your head. That’s primarily because it’s only ever in your head. The things that are hailed today may be forgotten tomorrow. The reverse can happen, too. A work stamped one way doesn’t stay that way. Some works are deemed masterpieces and exist in that rare air forever, but usually this designation passing down through time unchallenged, unrevised, and unrevisited is the result of a shortage of thinking on the part of audiences, the result of a preference for received wisdom. Failure is not fatal. For starters, it can be a motivator. Smooth sailing isn’t always the best way to convince yourself to put your nose back to the grindstone.
Page 246

Creative failure leads to a similar liberation.
Page 247

Failure is sometimes in your mind. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the... well, not the beholder, exactly, but the afflicted. Even when it’s not, even when it’s indisputable, it’s never the end.
Page 248

The only correction I’d make to this formula is that true creative people don’t walk away from it, not exactly. They walk toward the next thing.
Page 248

But success, if misunderstood, can be just as dangerous as failure.
Page 251

But don’t let success knock you down, either. It can put you in a narrow lane and make you afraid of experimentation.
Page 252

And this would be Apple, unwilling to experiment because they are afraid of failing.

There are two related issues here, so let me separate them for a second: there’s fear of being held above the community that has supported you, and then there’s fear of losing the context of those similar artists. For me, those two things combine to create a specific insecurity.
Page 253

You need to be aware of the nutritional benefits of failure and the empty calories of certain kinds of success. But I want to end with one more point, and it’s also a philosophical one. One of the best ways that you can cope with the feelings of failure (or the stresses of success) is to embrace a simple fact: the world mostly doesn’t care about you.
Page 259

If you put out a record and fewer people buy it than projected, if you write a book and it sells worse than you had hoped, even if you tweet out something funny and it doesn’t get the likes and retweets that you’ve grown accustomed to, you might have the tendency to panic or feel especially bad about yourself. Don’t. Feel good about it. You’re getting back the gift of freedom. People’s silence, or an audience’s distance from you, isn’t necessarily a negative review. The world is extremely cluttered.
Page 260

Creativity needs a certain amount of isolation to improve your ability to understand connection. Creativity needs a certain amount of indifference to improve your ability to make a difference. Creativity needs a certain amount of void so that you can be (and create) content.
Page 260

When he can’t reach them, he doesn’t admit defeat, but instead starts claiming that the grapes were sour in the first place. This fable is, in the end, the only one when it comes to setting your creative course and staying on it. If you start thinking the grapes are sour, you’ll ruin the entire process. The grapes aren’t sour. The grapes are sweet. And you may never reach them the way you want. But it’s always worth it. Keep going. Don’t give up. Find new ways in. All those clichés were true in the days of Aesop, when foolish foxes wouldn’t heed them, and they are true today.
Page 266

When it comes to the process, just persist, persist, persist. It has positive effects for your ideas, but also for the entire human machine that produces those ideas. Remember: life is short. If you waste time or you turn away from the business at hand, you’re going to regret it.
Page 266

But life is also long. And part of persisting is coming to terms with that fact.
Page 266

Brodsky was speaking to college grads, and he was telling them to get accustomed to the idea that they wouldn’t always be jazzed or juiced by what they were doing. The sooner they got their heads around that idea, the sooner they could accept boredom. And accepting boredom meant accepting a series of other things—the realization that humans are insignificant on the planet, for starters, which leads to the realization that humans must create to ward off that insignificance. Maintaining the right attitude about aging, and keeping your creativity charged as you age, is the flip side of that same principle.
Page 266

He warned against acknowledging the ways in which age limits your movement through the world. Specifically, he urged older people not to stop going down a flight of stairs just because it hurts a little. Once you start stopping, you’re on your way to shutting down entirely.
Page 266

I love this advice.

Little creative hitches and hurdles may come up at any time. But age is a different version of the same problem, because it’s easy to get the sense that things are beyond your control.
Page 266

Then I was at a show and I heard a guy talking to an artist. “You think you’re special?” he said. “Everything that is happening to you has happened to someone before.”

That guy was right, and also he was wrong. The way he was both right and wrong is what creativity is all about. It’s about finding your own unique way of fitting into the continually repeating human experience. Nothing you do is new, but you can still be new within that realization.
Page 266

An afterword is a strange goodbye, a place for the author to offer parting thoughts but also to remind readers that the book should stay with you.
Page 275

Rage Becomes Her

Book Notes

This book was recommended in a number of book forums. Having read Women & Power recently, I put the book on hold at the library and read it when it dropped.

This was not the book I was expecting.

This is the book I needed.

This book is all about women and their anger, and how society tells us not to be angry, to suppress that rage, no one will like us, angry women are difficult, etc. etc. etc. Yes, I know you're not supposed to have three etc.'s together, that the etc. means continue this series after I have already given you three examples. ETC.

Okay, let's talk about my crying in the framework of this book. I have always been easy to tears, and not until my early twenties did I recognize that my crying was an expression of frustration of my powerlessness. After reading this book, I think I had it wrong. Yes, crying is an expression of my frustration, but it is also an expression of my anger.

I read this book and sat back and thought about all the times I've been told to shut up and sit down because I was embarrassing him, the number of times I've been told, "Oh, you have enough on your plate, you don't need to deal with this, just accept this current shitty situation *pat* *pat* *pat*," the non-zero times I had to walk away from a situation because someone else was being and ass and my calling him on it was "being difficult."


So, I borrowed this book from the library. I read it. I bought a copy of the book hardback. When it comes out trade, I'm buying a couple dozen copies and throwing them in a bunch of little lending libraries and handing them out like candy. I might mail one to my fucking older brother, too.

Reading this book helps me better understand women older than I am. It helps me better understand women my age. It helps me better understand my experience. It helps me help women younger than I am.

I strongly recommend this book. Let me buy you a copy.


While we experience anger internally, it is mediated culturally and externally by other people’s expectations and social prohibitions. Roles and responsibilities, power and privilege are the framers of our anger.
Location 85

In the United States, anger in white men is often portrayed as justifiable and patriotic, but in black men, as criminality; and in black women, as threat. In the Western world, which this book focuses on, anger in women has been widely associated with “madness.”
Location 89

One of the most common feedback loops that women live with involves anger caused by discrimination that, if denied, intensifies, increasing stress and its effects.
Location 97

Boys learn early on about anger, but far less about other feelings, which handicaps them — and society — in different ways. Socially discouraged from seeming feminine (in other words, being empathetic, vulnerable, and compassionate), their emotional alternatives often come down to withdrawal or aggressive expressions of anger.
Location 120

Our society is infinitely creative in finding ways to dismiss and pathologize women’s rage.
Location 132

When a woman shows anger in institutional, political, and professional settings, she automatically violates gender norms. She is met with aversion, perceived as more hostile, irritable, less competent, and unlikeable — the kiss of death for a class of people expected to maintain social connections.
Location 134

When a man becomes angry in an argument or debate, people are more likely to abandon their own positions and defer to his. But when a woman acts the same way, she’s likely to elicit the opposite response.
Location 138

This persistent denial of subjectivity, knowledge, and reasonable concerns—commonly known as gaslighting—is deeply harmful and often abusive.
Location 147

Anger is usually about saying “no” in a world where women are conditioned to say almost anything but “no.”
Location 159

A cultivated feminine habit of prioritizing the needs of others and putting people at ease frequently puts us at a disadvantage.
Location 161

We understand that abandoning our anger is a necessary adaptation to a perpetual undercurrent of possible male violence.
Location 163


Anger is like water. No matter how hard a person tries to dam, divert, or deny it, it will find a way, usually along the path of least resistance.
Location 174

And this.

It took me too long to realize that the people most inclined to say “You sound angry” are the same people who uniformly don’t care to ask “Why?” They’re interested in silence, not dialogue.
Location 206

Most people, needing help raising their children, don’t want to think of this kind of child care in terms of the commodification of maternal ideals. And yet we as a society often demand that immigrant and impoverished women meet these ideals while simultaneously denying them the ability, by socially maintaining their low status, low wages, and lack of benefits or childcare support, to mother their own children.
Location 1877

In motherhood, we can find joy, love, security, community, and, for many women, life’s greatest purpose. It is not and should not be, however, the inevitable path for all girls and women; the standard against which we are all measured. It is a basic human decency to create a society in which motherhood is not wielded as a weapon against women, in which it is not coerced, forced, punishing, violent, and life threatening.
Location 1925

We care in so many ways, but for motherhood to be truly dignified, compassionate, purposeful, and fulfilling, it must presume a woman’s right to freely choose to be a parent. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. Instead, motherhood, the ideal, smothers women’s ability to protest unfairness and injustice.
Location 1941

A world full of women who smile on demand is a world where women’s anger is irrelevant and where the threat of male violence is legitimized.
Location 1981

Sexual harassment and violence are so normalized among girls and women that they don’t often consciously register them as abusive behaviors.
Location 2002

In my experience, most men don’t learn, as boys, to think about how different their experiences are from those of the girls and women around them. Men learn to regard rape as a moment in time; a discreet episode with a beginning, middle, and end. But for women, rape is thousands of moments that we fold into ourselves over a lifetime.
Location 2015

Girls and women adapt to these intrusions, usually by not talking about them, blaming themselves, or doing their best to ignore what is happening around them.
Location 2054

There is deep cultural resistance to taking women’s fears of male violence seriously.
Location 2078

Ask a man what his greatest fear is about serving jail time, and he will almost inevitably say he fears being raped. What can we deduce from the fact that jail is to men what life is to so many women?
Location 2153

Most college students surveyed, for example, believe that up to 50 percent of women lie about being raped. Other studies similarly show that police officers with fewer than eight years of experience also believe roughly that percentage of those alleging rape are lying. As recently as 2003, people jokingly referred to Philadelphia’s sex crimes unit as “the lying bitch unit.” This doubt remains true despite studies, conducted across multiple countries, consistently finding that the incidence of false rape claims ranges from just 2 percent to 8 percent, approximately the same as it is for any other crime.
Location 2161

Teaching girls to “stay safe” early in life, while simultaneously discouraging anger and aggression and cultivating physical fragility, all contribute to the association of weakness and fearfulness with femininity. Anger and aggression do not fit easily with these lessons. If we say we are scared, it is understandable and easy for others who can focus on what we, as individuals, can do to avoid feeling fear instead of what they, communally, can do to stem threats.
Location 2322

When women display anger, men are more likely to respond with anger, but when men show anger, women respond with fear. Women, more fearful, are less likely to respond to anger in situations when men might.
Location 2326

In the face of threat, we often learn that the “normal” physiological response is fight-or-flight. This description reflects men’s experiences, not women’s.
Location 2329

UCLA professor and social psychologist Shelley Taylor and her colleagues showed that when men and women encounter stress and threats, their actual physical reactions differ. Men’s bodies release the chemicals norepinephrine and cortisol, which prompt fight-or-flight behaviors.

Women, too, experience faster pulses and elevated blood pressure, but their bodies, instead, produce two different chemicals: endorphins and oxytocin, which lead to “tend-and-befriend” behaviors. Women become more affiliative and appear to be friendly. “Fight or flight” is the “normal” response... if you are a man, yet it is the standard to which women are held.
Location 2331


We learn as girls to read faces and other body indicators, and we develop tactics for lowering the temperature of encounters, a process known as de-escalation. The ability and inclination to take this approach is supported by socialization and the practical reality that women are often physically smaller than the people threatening them.
Location 2336

Simply “leaving” or “walking away” is often not a rational option. When we feel fear, or anger, or a combination of both, we often freeze, act confused, and stop talking in order to think. We become still and quiet, and we smile. We make our rage small; we acquiesce, deflect, soothe, and shrug. Giggling is sublimation. Laughing is a path to survival. And if smiling and laughter are not options, we cry: a self-silencing deferral that is often misinterpreted as weakness.
Location 2340

Women in heterosexual relationships, more likely to follow traditional gender-role expectations, are more prone to display traditionally feminine traits, like crying, and silence their anger than women in egalitarian relationships are. Feminine anger is particularly difficult in more conventional frameworks because the expression of anger itself is conceived as a failure to be a “good” woman.
Location 2344

In 2014 Turkey’s then deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, condemned the act of women smiling in public (in other words, opening their mouths) as a sign of “moral decline of modern society.”
Location 2552

Women are especially not supposed to question or publicly shame men for their behavior. If they use their public voices to address topics that go beyond their gender roles, families, and appearance—particularly if they challenge that limitation—they can count on public hostility, off-and online.
Location 2555

Discomfort with women speaking authoritatively is universal.
Location 2570

Women have to work doubly, triply hard to be considered credible and authoritative.
Location 2595

The notion of older women’s anger is even less appealing than girls’ nascent rage. Older women are supposed to disappear or, if not, at least be quiet and take care of others.
Location 2603

In 2015, writer Nicola Griffith analyzed fifteen years’ worth of top literary awards, demonstrating a systemic preference for male protagonists in books written by men. In the case of the Pulitzer Prize, for example, “women wrote zero out of 15 prize-winning books wholly from the point of view of a woman or girl.”
Location 2622

Some criticisms were constructive, but women were castigated repeatedly for personality and communication skills, such as: “Pay attention to your tone,” “Stop being so judgmental!” “Let others shine,” “Step back,” and “Be a little more patient.”
Location 2637

Hands up if you think women aren’t storing up their anger at being told, in millions of small ways, that they should follow the rules, shut up, and be grateful for what they are given.
Location 2640

In these early lessons and contexts, overt sexism isn’t the problem, benevolence is. It’s hard to be angry at or resent people who love you and are working hard to take care of you. This is a significant part of why sexism is so difficult to call out at its most granular and intimate levels: at home and in settings that often dominate social life.
Location 2643

A benevolent sexist says, “Motherhood is the most important job in the world”—and then proceeds to act on the belief that “girls are worse at math,” to pay mothers less, and to penalize men who want to care for their children. It’s a solid way to make people feel good while they are being materially discriminated against.
Location 2650

Nearly 50 percent of men without high school diplomas and 25 percent of those with college degrees believe that women fall back on using gender discrimination as an excuse for workplace outcomes that they don’t like.
Location 3449

Even when presented with personal experience and irrefutable evidence of bias and sexism, many men refuse to admit what the women around them are experiencing.
Location 3454

People who deny sexism will always be more hostile to your anger than to what is actually causing your anger.
Location 3483

The core issue is that, no matter where you may live in the world, dominant norms of masculinity are actively constructed out of women’s vulnerabilities.
Location 3492

Both men and women respond with anger when another person acts in critical, aggressive, and controlling ways, but many men exhibit those behaviors as a function of being adequately masculine. The behaviors that women say cause them to feel intense anger are often those that men display as aspects of traditional masculinity. In women, on the other hand, the controlling and aggressive behavior that men might find enraging indicates that a woman is not conforming to traditional norms. A similar justifying pattern is evident in how anger can affect relationships between women
Location 3512

It is, of course, not only men who believe in separate spheres, or who deny women’s words and anger. It’s often, sometimes much more often, other women.
Location 3569

For example, studies indicate that women with benevolently sexist beliefs are the most hostile to other women when they demonstrate raw ambition or display political power.
Location 3575

Thinking that the world is just and hoping that it can be more just are very different orientations. Studies show that women will maintain beliefs in separate gender spheres and a just world, supporting patriarchal norms even when it puts them at a clear disadvantage.
Location 3581

Denial and diversion allow people to maintain psychological equilibrium and stave off feelings of powerlessness in the face of emotionally disruptive and anxiety-provoking information.
Location 3583

Denial is rarely based on facts or reasoning. It is a visceral emotional defense that overrides reason, critical thinking, and deliberation.
Location 3590

These two lines explain a lot to me.

Men who believe in separate spheres and adhere to benevolently sexist beliefs don’t “see” women’s anger as legitimate because to see the problems, and risks, that women face as real would require status-threatening change.
Location 3598

As members of juries, for example, women who score high in benevolent sexism and just-world beliefs are the most likely to harshly judge rape victims or women who have been abused by intimate partners. They will overlook the broader meaning and context of male perpetration and its prevalence. None of this is to excuse racism or sexism or other forms of bias and overt prejudice, but, rather, it is to point out why anger, and arguing on the basis of facts, so often fail to change minds.
Location 3600

In this case, yes, there were economic concerns but what this voting bloc did was leverage racial privilege to maintain status, even if their gendered rights were being degraded.
Location 3618

When people encounter overwhelming evidence of social inequality that defies what they believe about their own natures, the world, and their place in it, instead of processing facts and addressing what they mean, they up the ante on gaslighting, victim blaming, exaggerating the benefits of inequitable social systems, and adamantly defending the status quo. They respond in anger and are prone to shut down women’s angry demands.
Location 3666

Crosscultural studies reveal some universal qualities about authoritarian mind-sets: rigid adherence to rules, strict moral codes, strong feelings of contempt and disgust, obedience to social groups, an aversion to introspection, and a propensity and desire to punish others. At the most intimate scales, in families, the same can be said for rigid enforcement of gender norms.
Location 3706

Studies reveal another consistent and related pattern: antifeminism and contempt for women are related directly to authoritarian beliefs.
Location 3712

The most powerful effect is the division of women and men in such a way that it is “natural” for women to not want, seek, or hold power.
Location 3724

Despite claims to the opposite, conservatives simply do not appear to believe women can or should be full participants in society.
Location 3732

Speaking from a position of moral authority and often with righteous anger are vital to having a public voice and holding political power. But when women assert themselves, whether they are openly angry or not, they often encounter social opprobrium, invalidation, backlash, and punishment.
Location 3739

Women being good at resisting male power, which is significantly what we are talking about in terms of anger, politics, and denial, is often a matter of embodiment as resistance.
Location 3819

Friedman quoted Princeton University lecturer Erin K. Vearncombe, an expert on the cultural meaning of appearance, who explained, “absent hair on a woman’s head can be read as disruptive to the politics of the male gaze.”
Location 3828

If you can’t focus on a woman’s hair, it is infinitely more difficult to ignore what comes out of her mouth.
Location 3830

This cracked me up.

If you are inclined to think that raising the issue of race when discussing gender inequality in America is counterproductive, it can mean only that you are not “seeing” your own privileges and are unwilling to sit with discomfort.
Location 3854

It is frequently the case that while we recognize male leaders as representative of “humanity,” we fail to do the same for women leaders.
Location 3863

It might make more sense for those concerned with the relevance or representation of movements like these to focus on the question of why the quiet anger and energy of women voters and politicians are so often ignored in favor of the loudest man in the room.
Location 3870

Studies show that women who display or express anger in deliberative groups, for example, are taken less seriously than the men around them are.
Location 3878

Powerlessness is one of the reasons women cry more. It is less likely to cause an angry response in the person a woman is talking to.
Location 3887

Girls are constantly seeking ways to convince people they know, respect, and love that what they are saying when they describe their experiences or their anger and frustration is true, and that it is serious. Even at just eight to ten years old, young girls have been found in studies to think they will be made fun of or disciplined when they display anger.
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We all have the right to believe what we believe and to live life as we see fit. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get to call what is clearly discrimination by its proper name. Benevolent sexism is still sexism. Religious sexism is still sexism.
Location 3900

Anger is an emotion. It is neither good nor bad. While uncomfortable, it’s not inherently undesirable. Most of the anger-related problems we encounter come from its social construction and how our emotions are filtered through our identities and social location relative to others. Anger should not be an entitlement.
Location 3966

When women are asked why they continue to associate being angry with negative outcomes and fear, they say it is because they do not want to “lose control” and act in “inappropriate” ways.
Location 3969

Anger is a moral emotion that hinges on our making judgments about the people and world around us. As women, we are supposed to be one step removed from both moral thinking and the authority that comes with it. Our feelings of anger, deep in our bones, our blood, and our minds, are a refutation of that oppressive standard and the control of women that comes with it.
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People who understand how they are feeling are able to be patient and thoughtful in anger.
Location 4000

You might tend toward getting angry quickly, known as trait anger, or you might be a person who is slower to anger even when provoked, known as state anger.
Location 4004

If you find you are crying and silent but seething inside, what circumstances are leading to your feelings of powerlessness?
Location 4017

An adult relationship that can’t withstand your saying you feel angry is probably not a healthy one and, if that pattern is sustained, probably not worth continuing.
Location 4018

I remind myself sometimes that the root of the word aggressive is related closely to the Latin word aggredi, meaning “to go forward.”
Location 4033

Ask yourself, “Does being assertive make me feel anxious?” “Do I repeatedly use minimizing words, such as just when I write emails?” “How frequently do I begin a sentence with Sorry?” Do you give in or backtrack on a demand quickly and easily?
Location 4038

In many environments, all you have to do to be castigated as an angry woman is to say something out loud, so you might as well say exactly what’s bothering you and get on with it.
Location 4052

There is discomfort in understanding. There will always be people who are deeply uncomfortable with your anger. They will attempt to diminish what you say by disparaging your choice of expression. This is a kind of laziness and a sure symptom of dismissal and, sometimes, abuse.
Location 4056

It helps, in these circumstances, to think of the difference between being nice, which girls are taught to do at all costs, and being kind. Nice is something you do to please others, even if you have no interest, desire, or reason to. Kindness, on the other hand, assumes that you are true to yourself first.
Location 4062

Care with purpose. Understand that this includes taking care of your own health and well-being. Learn to say no and to say no unapologetically.
Location 4067

RETHINK FORGIVENESS. It is often the case that our anger comes from feeling betrayed, disappointed, and taken for granted. The feelings we have—hurt, resentment, frustration, and rage—are often portrayed as negative and not worth being taken seriously. We are often encouraged to ignore, forgive, and forget. For women whose lives are informed by faith, forgiveness is frequently prioritized over beneficial resolutions. Being forgiving in self-sacrificial ways is emotional labor par excellence.
Location 4084

The expectation of forgiveness often involves shaming you for not feeling forgiving. This is dismissive in that it ignores feelings of hurt, pain, and trauma and contributes to the sense that you do not deserve to be heard. Forgive nothing until you are good and ready to, especially if there has been no indication that the behavior causing you distress has changed.
Location 4088

If you find yourself easily frustrated, irritable, and stressed, the focus of your anger is almost certainly misplaced. Flying off the handle in unpredictable ways rarely makes change or makes you feel better. Anger like this is usually a symptom of unaddressed emotions and, almost always, a history of having learned that expressing your emotions is not only bad but also makes you a bad person.
Location 4102

In sports, you are able to develop mastery over a honed sense of the potential of aggression, with or without anger, to alter your environment as well as what professor and cultural historian Maud Lavin (the author of Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women) describes as the “sheer physical joy of exerting aggression outward instead of inward.”
Location 4139

When asked, women are consistent about the primary causes of anger in their lives: overwork and stress; feeling as though they are being taken for granted; other people’s irresponsibility or taking credit for what they are doing; and being condescended to, humiliated, or demeaned.
Location 4181

For most of us, anger is related to the desire for greater control in the workplace—of our own careers, our physical safety, our ability to earn a living, our health.
Location 4185

Enlightenment Now

Book Notes

Okay, we know that I really disliked the first book I read that says things don't suck. Most of my intense dislike of the book comes from the Gladwell way that Ridley writes: "Let me state something as fact, give you a story that supports the fact, and claim it true for everything," which is, lets be open about this, quite what the whole Cheetoh delusion is about. The difference between Cheetoh and Ridley / Gladwell is that we like what Ridley / Gladwell are saying, so we don't go out and track down the sources and sees what's up. At least with Cheetoh, we know he's lying. With Ridley, we don't know, because he buried his sources and when we found them, we realized they were quoting other sources that quoted other sources and no one actually did much of the research.

Anyway. I'm grumpy. I'm not a fan of the everything is sweet and wonderful, because not everything is.

That said, show me the evidence, show me the data, and I will listen. Point out that pessimism is often used as a reason to do nothing, and I will hear you.

Show me where I am wrong, and I will change my mind.

Not about disliking a poorly supported book of anecdotes heralded as science, but about the progress of mankind.

This book does a great job at showing us just how much better we are with progress. However much we rail against the destruction of the planet, the injustices of the world, the atrocitities of men, and the shit people do to each other, in a collective way, we are much better off than we were 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, a millenium ago. We murder less. We starve less. We live longer. We have more opportunties.

We have different health problems, sure. Fewer women die in childbirth (yay!), more people die of drug overdoses (boo!). Fewer people die of the flu (yay!), more people die of Alzheimer’s (boo!). I don't know anyone who wants to go back to outdoor toilets, cleaning clothes by beating them, or an era without dentists, painkillers, easy transportation, or computers. "Roughing it" has its appeal in the ability to go back to not-roughing-it.

Which is what this book is saying. We are all "enlightened" similar to the Enlightenment, and that's a good thing according to Pinker. Many things happening in the world really suck, and we're heading in the wrong direction locally thanks to the deliberate greed in the Executive Branch of the United States, but overall, humans are in a better place than we have ever been.

This book is long. It took me a while to read it. If ever I were going to make an argument for tracking the number of book pages read instead of the number of books I've read, this book would be Exhibit A. I could (and should) have expected this book to break my rapid reading streak. I still recommend it, though, to anyone who can read a long book (I know a lot of people who can't or won't), or is interested in the topic, or wants to tell me that things are awful. The local might be horrible, but the global isn't.

The reason the punishment should fit the crime, for example, is not to balance some mystical scale of justice but to ensure that a wrongdoer stops at a minor crime rather than escalating to a more harmful one. Cruel punishments, whether or not they are in some sense “deserved,” are no more effective at deterring harm than moderate but surer punishments, and they desensitize spectators and brutalize the society that implements them. The Enlightenment
Page 12

Though everyone wants to be right, as soon as people start to air their incompatible views it becomes clear that not everyone can be right about everything. Also, the desire to be right can collide with a second desire, to know the truth, which is uppermost in the minds of bystanders to an argument who are not invested in which side wins. Communities can thereby come up with rules that allow true beliefs to emerge from the rough-and-tumble of argument, such as that you have to provide reasons for your beliefs, you’re allowed to point out flaws in the beliefs of others, and you’re not allowed to forcibly shut people up who disagree with you. Add in the rule that you should allow the world to show you whether your beliefs are true or false, and we can call the rules science. With the right rules, a community of less than fully rational thinkers can cultivate rational thoughts.
Page 27

So for all the flaws in human nature, it contains the seeds of its own improvement, as long as it comes up with norms and institutions that channel parochial interests into universal benefits. Among those norms are free speech, nonviolence, cooperation, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and an acknowledgment of human fallibility, and among the institutions are science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets.
Page 28

Since the 1960s, trust in the institutions of modernity has sunk, and the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of populist movements that blatantly repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment. 1 They are tribalist rather than cosmopolitan, authoritarian rather than democratic, contemptuous of experts rather than respectful of knowledge, and nostalgic for an idyllic past rather than hopeful for a better future.
Page 29

To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason. Religions also commonly clash with humanism whenever they elevate some moral good above the well-being of humans, such as accepting a divine savior, ratifying a sacred narrative, enforcing rituals and taboos, proselytizing other people to do the same, and punishing or demonizing those who don’t. Religions can also clash with humanism by valuing souls above lives, which is not as uplifting as it sounds. Belief in an afterlife implies that health and happiness are not such a big deal, because life on earth is an infinitesimal portion of one’s existence; that coercing people into accepting salvation is doing them a favor; and that martyrdom may be the best thing that can ever happen to you.
Page 30

Enlightenment idea is that people are the expendable cells of a superorganism—a clan, tribe, ethnic group, religion, race, class, or nation—and that the supreme good is the glory of this collectivity rather than the well-being of the people who make it up. An obvious example is nationalism, in which the superorganism is the nation-state, namely an ethnic group with a government.
Page 30

Humans are a social species, and the well-being of every individual depends on patterns of cooperation and harmony that span a community. When a “nation” is conceived as a tacit social contract among people sharing a territory, like a condominium association, it is an essential means for advancing its members’ flourishing. And of course it is genuinely admirable for one individual to sacrifice his or her interests for those of many individuals. It’s quite another thing when a person is forced to make the supreme sacrifice for the benefit of a charismatic leader, a square of cloth, or colors on a map. Nor is it sweet and right to clasp death in order to prevent a province from seceding, expand a sphere of influence, or carry out an irredentist crusade.
Page 31

Defenders of the faith insist that religion has the exclusive franchise for questions about what matters. Or that even if we sophisticated people don’t need religion to be moral, the teeming masses do. Or that even if everyone would be better off without religious faith, it’s pointless to talk about the place of religion in the world because religion is a part of human nature,
Page 31

Yes, it’s not just those who intellectualize for a living who think the world is going to hell in a handcart. It’s ordinary people when they switch into intellectualizing mode. Psychologists have long known that people tend to see their own lives through rose-colored glasses: they think they’re less likely than the average person to become the victim of a divorce, layoff, accident, illness, or crime. But change the question from the people’s lives to their society, and they transform from Pollyanna to Eeyore.
Page 40

Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, “I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as bad things have
Page 41

The nature of news is likely to distort people’s view of the world because of a mental bug that the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman called the Availability heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. 11 In many walks of life this is a serviceable rule of thumb. Frequent events leave stronger memory traces, so stronger memories generally indicate more-frequent events:
Page 41

But whenever a memory turns up high in the result list of the mind’s search engine for reasons other than frequency—because it is recent, vivid, gory, distinctive, or upsetting—people will overestimate how likely it is in the world.
Page 41

Consumers of negative news, not surprisingly, become glum: a recent literature review cited “misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitization, and in some cases, . . . complete avoidance of the news.” 15 And they become fatalistic, saying things like “Why should I vote? It’s not gonna help,” or “I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.” 16
Page 42

This “ideological rather than accidental innumeracy” leads writers to notice, for example, that wars take place today and wars took place in the past and to conclude that “nothing has changed”—failing to acknowledge the difference between an era with a handful of wars that collectively kill in the thousands and an era with dozens of wars that collectively killed in the millions.
Page 48

Experiments have shown that a critic who pans a book is perceived as more competent than a critic who praises it, and the same may be true of critics of society. 27
Page 48

At least since the time of the Hebrew prophets, who blended their social criticism with forewarnings of disaster, pessimism has been equated with moral seriousness. Journalists
Page 48

The financial writer Morgan Housel has observed that while pessimists sound like they’re trying to help you, optimists sound like they’re trying to sell you something. 28 Whenever someone offers a solution to a problem, critics will be quick to point out that it is not a panacea, a silver bullet, a magic bullet, or a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s just a Band-Aid or a quick technological fix that fails to get at the root causes and will blow back with side effects and unintended consequences. Of
Page 49

Trump was the beneficiary of a belief—near universal in American journalism—that “serious news” can essentially be defined as “what’s going wrong.” . . . For decades, journalism’s steady focus on problems and seemingly incurable pathologies was preparing the soil that allowed Trump’s seeds of discontent and despair to take root. . . . One consequence is that many Americans today have difficulty imagining, valuing or even believing in the promise of incremental system change, which leads to a greater appetite for revolutionary, smash-the-machine change. 30
Page 50

Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony. All these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress.
Page 51

Max Roser’s Our World in Data, Marian Tupy’s HumanProgress, and Hans Rosling’s Gapminder.
Page 52

In my view the best projection of the outcome of our multicentury war on death is Stein’s Law—“ Things that can’t go on forever don’t”—as amended by Davies’s Corollary—“ Things that can’t go on forever can go on much longer than you think.”
Page 61

History is written not so much by the victors as by the affluent, the sliver of humanity with the leisure and education to write about it.
Page 79

“In 1976,” Radelet writes, “Mao single-handedly and dramatically changed the direction of global poverty with one simple act: he died.” 32
Page 90

For reasons we have seen, market economies can generate wealth prodigiously while totalitarian planned economies impose scarcity, stagnation, and often famine. Market economies, in addition to reaping the benefits of specialization and providing incentives for people to produce things that other people want, solve the problem of coordinating the efforts of hundreds of millions of people by using prices to propagate information about need and availability far and wide, a computational problem that no planner is brilliant enough to solve from a central bureau.
Page 90

In developing countries, inequality is not dispiriting but heartening: people in the more unequal societies are happier. The authors suggest that whatever envy, status anxiety, or relative deprivation people may feel in poor, unequal countries is swamped by hope. Inequality is seen as a harbinger of opportunity, a sign that education and other routes to upward mobility might pay off for them and their children.
Page 101

Many studies in psychology have shown that people, including young children, prefer windfalls to be split evenly among participants, even if everyone ends up with less overall. That led some psychologists to posit a syndrome called inequity aversion: an apparent desire to spread the wealth. But in their recent article “Why People Prefer Unequal Societies,” the psychologists Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin, and Paul Bloom took another look at the studies and found that people prefer unequal distributions, both among fellow participants in the lab and among citizens in their country, as long as they sense that the allocation is fair: that the bonuses go to harder workers, more generous helpers, or even the lucky winners of an impartial lottery.
Page 101

Narratives about the causes of inequality loom larger in people’s minds than the existence of inequality. That creates an opening for politicians to rouse the rabble by singling out cheaters who take more than their fair share: welfare queens, immigrants, foreign countries, bankers, or the rich, sometimes identified with ethnic minorities.
Page 102

zero in on solutions to each problem: investment in research and infrastructure to escape economic stagnation, regulation of the finance sector to reduce instability, broader access to education and job training to facilitate economic mobility, electoral transparency and finance reform to eliminate illicit influence, and so on. The influence of money on politics is particularly pernicious because it can distort every government policy, but it’s not the same issue as income inequality. After all, in the absence of electoral reform the richest donors can get the ear of politicians whether they earn 2 percent of national income or 8 percent of it.
Page 102

Scheidel concludes, “All of us who prize greater economic equality would do well to remember that with the rarest of exceptions it was only ever brought forth in sorrow. Be careful what you wish for.” 28
Page 107

The explosion in social spending has redefined the mission of government: from warring and policing to also nurturing.
Page 108

And tellingly, the number of libertarian paradises in the world—developed countries without substantial social spending—is zero. 39 The correlation between social spending and social well-being holds only up to a point: the curve levels off starting at around 25 percent and may even drop off at higher proportions.
Page 110

In reality social spending is never exactly like insurance but is a combination of insurance, investment, and charity. Its success thus depends on the degree to which the citizens of a country sense they are part of one community, and that fellow feeling can be strained when the beneficiaries are disproportionately immigrants or ethnic minorities. 40 These tensions are inherent to social spending and will always be politically contentious.
Page 110

Today’s discussions of inequality often compare the present era unfavorably with a golden age of well-paying, dignified, blue-collar jobs that have been made obsolete by automation and globalization. This idyllic image is belied by contemporary depictions of the harshness of working-class life in that era,
Page 113

Income inequality, in sum, is not a counterexample to human progress, and we are not living in a dystopia of falling incomes that has reversed the centuries-long rise in prosperity.
Page 119

Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing.
Page 120

A second realization of the ecomodernist movement is that industrialization has been good for humanity.
Page 123

Economists speak of the environmental Kuznets curve, a counterpart to the U-shaped arc for inequality as a function of economic growth. As countries first develop, they prioritize growth over environmental purity. But as they get richer, their thoughts turn to the environment. 9 If people can afford electricity only at the cost of some smog, they’ll live with the smog, but when they can afford both electricity and clean air, they’ll spring for the clean air.
Page 124

Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, using data from the World Values Survey, have found that people with stronger emancipative values—tolerance, equality, freedom of thought and speech—which tend to go with affluence and education, are also more likely to recycle and to pressure governments and businesses into protecting the environment. 10
Page 124

according to the ecologist Stuart Pimm, the overall rate of extinctions has been reduced by 75 percent. 31
Page 133

Like all demonstrations of progress, reports on the improving state of the environment are often met with a combination of anger and illogic. The fact that many measures of environmental quality are improving does not mean that everything is OK, that the environment got better by itself, or that we can just sit back and relax.
Page 134

The problem is that carbon emissions are a classic public goods game, also known as a Tragedy of the Commons. People benefit from everyone else’s sacrifices and suffer from their own, so everyone has an incentive to be a free rider and let everyone else make the sacrifice, and everyone suffers.
Page 141

I agree with Pope Francis and the climate justice warriors that preventing climate change is a moral issue because it has the potential to harm billions, particularly the world’s poor. But morality is different from moralizing, and is often poorly served by it.
Page 142

The enlightened response to climate change is to figure out how to get the most energy with the least emission of greenhouse gases.
Page 142

zones of anarchy are always violent. 28 It’s not because everyone wants to prey on everyone else, but because in the absence of a government the threat of violence can be self-inflating. If even a few potential predators lurk in the region or could show up on short notice, people must adopt an aggressive posture to deter them. This deterrent is credible only if they advertise their resolve by retaliating against any affront and avenging any depredation, regardless of the cost. This “Hobbesian trap,” as it is sometimes called, can easily set off cycles of feuding and vendetta: you have to be at least as violent as your adversaries lest you become their doormat.
Page 173

Here is Eisner’s one-sentence summary of how to halve the homicide rate within three decades: “An effective rule of law, based on legitimate law enforcement, victim protection, swift and fair adjudication, moderate punishment, and humane prisons is critical to sustainable reductions in lethal violence.” 32
Page 174

While the threat of ever-harsher punishments is both cheap and emotionally satisfying, it’s not particularly effective, because scofflaws just treat them like rare accidents—horrible, yes, but a risk that comes with the job. Punishments that are predictable, even if less draconian, are likelier to be factored into day-to-day choices.
Page 174

Troublemakers also have narcissistic and sociopathic thought patterns, such as that they are always in the right, that they are entitled to universal deference, that disagreements are personal insults, and that other people have no feelings or interests. Though they cannot be “cured” of these delusions, they can be trained to recognize and counteract them.
Page 175

Other terrorists belong to militant groups that seek to call attention to their cause, to extort a government to change its policies, to provoke it into an extreme response that might recruit new sympathizers or create a zone of chaos for them to exploit, or to undermine the government by spreading the impression that it cannot protect its own citizens. Before we conclude that they “pose a threat to the existence or survival of the United States,” we should bear in mind how weak the tactic actually is. 15 The historian Yuval Harari notes that terrorism is the opposite of military action, which tries to damage the enemy’s ability to retaliate and prevail.
Page 196

From their position of weakness, Harari notes, what terrorists seek to accomplish is not damage but theater.
Page 196

Though terrorists hope for the best, their small-scale violence almost never gets them what they want.
Page 196

Indeed, the rise of terrorism in public awareness is not a sign of how dangerous the world has become but the opposite.
Page 197

Harari points out that in the Middle Ages, every sector of society retained a private militia—aristocrats, guilds, towns, even churches and monasteries—and they secured their interests by force:
Page 197

As modern states have successfully claimed a monopoly on force, driving down the rate of killing within their borders, they opened a niche for terrorism: The state has stressed so many times that it will not tolerate political violence within its borders that it has no alternative but to see any act of terrorism as intolerable. The citizens, for their part, have become used to zero political violence, so the theatre of terror incites in them visceral fears of anarchy, making them feel as if the social order is about to collapse. After centuries of bloody struggles, we have crawled out of the black hole of violence, but we feel that the black hole is still there, patiently waiting to swallow us again. A few gruesome atrocities and we imagine that we are falling back in. 19
Page 197

As states try to carry out the impossible mandate of protecting their citizens from all political violence everywhere and all the time, they are tempted to respond with theater of their own.
Page 197

Instead, countries could deal with terrorism by deploying their greatest advantage: knowledge and analysis, not least knowledge of the numbers. The
Page 197

The media can examine their essential role in the show business of terrorism by calibrating their coverage to the objective dangers and giving more thought to the perverse incentives they have set up. (Lankford, together with the sociologist Erik Madfis, has recommended a policy for rampage shootings of “Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, but Report Everything Else,” based on a policy for juvenile shooters already in effect in Canada and on other strategies of calculated media self-restraint.)
Page 197

Over the long run, terrorist movements sputter out as their small-scale violence fails to achieve their strategic goals, even as it causes local misery and fear.
Page 198

Political scientists are repeatedly astonished by the shallowness and incoherence of people’s political beliefs, and by the tenuous connection of their preferences to their votes and to the behavior of their representatives. 21 Most voters are ignorant not just of current policy options but of basic facts, such as what the major branches of government are, who the United States fought in World War II, and which countries have used nuclear weapons. Their opinions flip depending on how a question is worded: they say that the government spends too much on “welfare” but too little on “assistance to the poor,” and that it should “use military force” but not “go to war.” When they do formulate a preference, they commonly vote for a candidate with the opposite one. But it hardly matters, because once in office politicians vote the positions of their party regardless of the opinions of their constituents. Nor does voting even provide much of a feedback signal about a government’s performance. Voters punish incumbents for recent events over which they have dubious control, such as macroeconomic swings and terrorist strikes, or no control at all, such as droughts, floods, even shark attacks.
Page 204

They use the franchise as a form of self-expression: they vote for candidates who they think are like them and stand for their kind of people.
Page 205

When an election is a contest between aspiring despots, rival factions fear the worst if the other side wins and try to intimidate each other from the ballot box.
Page 205

The latest fashion in dictatorship has been called the competitive, electoral, kleptocratic, statist, or patronal authoritarian regime. 22 (Putin’s Russia is the prototype.) The incumbents use the formidable resources of the state to harass the opposition, set up fake opposition parties, use state-controlled media to spread congenial narratives, manipulate electoral rules, tilt voter registration, and jigger the elections themselves. (Patronal authoritarians, for all that, are not invulnerable—the color revolutions sent several of them packing.)
Page 205

In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, the philosopher Karl Popper argued that democracy should be understood not as the answer to the question “Who should rule?” (namely, “The People”), but as a solution to the problem of how to dismiss bad leadership without bloodshed. 23
Page 205

Democracy, he suggests, is essentially based on giving people the freedom to complain: “It comes about when the people effectively agree not to use violence to replace the leadership, and the leadership leaves them free to try to dislodge it by any other means.”
Page 205

The contrast between the messy reality of democracy and the civics-class ideal leads to perennial disillusionment.
Page 206

Reviewing the history, Mueller concludes that “inequality, disagreement, apathy, and ignorance seem to be normal, not abnormal, in a democracy, and to a considerable degree the beauty of the form is that it works despite these qualities—or, in some important respects, because of them.” 26
Page 206

Its main prerequisite is that a government be competent enough to protect people from anarchic violence so they don’t fall prey to, or even welcome, the first strongman who promises he can do the job.
Page 206

Ideas matter, too. For democracy to take root, influential people (particularly people with guns) have to think that it is better than alternatives such as theocracy, the divine right of kings, colonial paternalism, the dictatorship of the proletariat (in practice, its “revolutionary vanguard”), or authoritarian rule by a charismatic leader who directly embodies the will of the people.
Page 206

Conversely, as people recognize that democracies are relatively nice places to live, the idea of democracy can become contagious and the number can increase over time.
Page 206

The freedom to complain rests on an assurance that the government won’t punish or silence the complainer. The front line in democratization, then, is constraining the government from abusing its monopoly on force to brutalize its uppity citizens.
Page 206

These red lines are not the same as electoral democracy, since a majority of voters may be indifferent to government brutality as long as it isn’t directed at them. In practice, democratic countries do show greater respect for human rights.
Page 207

Red Clocks

Book Notes

There are five main female characters in this book, and I identify with four of them. Why did I pick up this book again?

Okay, for reals, this was not an easy book for me to read. The plot has five intertwined plots, a single woman who wants a child, an overachieving teen, a wife/mother in a relationship that isn't working, an arctic explorer/scientist, and a hippie / herbalist / off-the-grid non-conformist. Four of them live in costal Oregon, the explorer is the subject of the single woman's biography.

I do not know how this book ended up on my reading list. I suspect because it is a reasonable Handmaid's Tale-like near-future dystopian where Roe vs. Wade is repealed, and an eight-celled blastocyst is considered a full person in the eyes of the law, making even miscarriages suspect under the law, and women are aware that this near-future dystopian is much, much closer than we want to believe.

As far as I'm concerned, abortion can be illegal when we get the equivalent for men, something where they have no control over their own bodies, are shamed by society, forced to live with the consequences of a strongly personal and highly private decision made public decided by someone else, have to risk their lives, and have their bodies destroyed for the rest of their lives. Which is to say, no, abortion should never be illegal because it isn't your decision, it is the carrying woman's and only the woman's decision. The cells are not a person until they can sustain themselves outside of the womb. This book hits nearly every trigger I can imagine when it comes to women being lesser than men.


This book.

The single woman teacher who wants a kid. Fuck.

The overachiving high school student with all the same arguments I make. Fuck.

The wife / mother in a relationship that isn't working. Fuck.

The arctic explorer who needs a male peer to publish her work under his name to get it published. Fuck.

The non-confirming weird herbalist character? Didn't particular identify with her. 80% isn't too bad for an author, I'd argue.

Anyway, yes, this book is worth reading. I started it, couldn't put it done, was done with is in a day. Four books in four days, time to read something that'll take me a bit to finish.

The sea does not ask permission or wait for instruction. It doesn’t suffer from not knowing what on earth, exactly, it is meant to do.
Location 204

These kids, after all, have not been lost yet. Staring up at her, jaws rimmed with baby fat, they are perched on the brink of not giving a shit. They still give a shit, but not, most of them, for long.
Location 216

Waiting on the hard little plastic chair, under elevator music and fluorescent glare, the biographer takes out her notebook. Everything in this notebook must be in list form, and any list is eligible.
Location 241

A book of lists. This intrigues me, but not enough to convert my journal to the format.

On the first night, the mender asked what that noise was and learned it was the ocean.

“But when does it stop?”

“Never,” said her aunt. “It’s perpetual, though impermanent.”

And the mender’s mother said, “Pretentious much?”
Location 292

The hard-sunk eyes the wife once found beguiling are not eyes she would wish upon her daughter. Bex’s will have purplish circles before long.

But who cares what the girl looks like, if she is happy?

The world will care.
Location 412

She’s one of those people who think they will understand something if they hear its name, when really they will only hear its name.
Location 667

“Let’s spend the taxpayers’ money to criminalize vulnerable women, shall we?” said Ro/ Miss in class, and somebody said, “But if they’re breaking the law, they are criminals,” and Ro/ Miss said, “Laws aren’t natural phenomena. They have particular and often horrific histories. Ever heard of the Nuremberg Laws? Ever heard of Jim Crow?”
Location 1009

Civil disobedience.

The border control can detain any woman or girl they “reasonably” suspect of crossing into Canada for the purpose of ending a pregnancy. Seekers are returned (by police escort) to their state of residence, where the district attorney can prosecute them for attempting a termination.
Location 1194

Or does the desire come from some creaturely place, pre-civilized, some biological throb that floods her bloodways with the message Make more of yourself! To repeat, not to improve.
Location 1241

Asking why she wants a kid.

Her eighth-grade social-studies class held a mock debate on abortion. The daughter prepared bullet points for the pro-choice team.

Her father proofread her work, as usual; but instead of his usual “This is top-notch!” he sat down beside her, rested a hand on her shoulder, and said he was concerned about the implications of her argument. “What if your bio mother had chosen to terminate?”

“Well, she didn’t, but other people should be able to.”

“Think of all the happy adopted families that wouldn’t exist.”

“But Dad, a lot of women would still give their babies up for adoption.”

“But what about the women who didn’t?”

“Why can’t everyone just decide for themselves?”

“When someone decides to murder a fellow human with a gun, we put them in jail, don’t we?”

“Not if they’re a cop.”

“Think of all the families waiting for a child. Think of me and your mom, how long we waited.”


“An embryo is a living being.”

“So is a dandelion.”

“Well, I can’t imagine the world without you, pigeon, and neither can your mother.”
Location 1606

A hundred miles is too far for an unplanned pinch. She is thirty-seven years old and pines for her mother.
Location 1797

I understand this. Very much.

“Given your age, your FSH levels, and now this diagnosis, the chance of conception via IUI is little to none.”

“But if there’s a chance, at least—”

“By ‘little to none,’ I mean more like ‘none.’”

Taut pain at the back of her mouth. “Oh.”
Location 1940

I understand this. Very much.

This planet may be choking to death, bleeding from every hole, but still she would choose them, every time.
Location 2141

“Your shift now,” she says. “I’m going for a walk.”

“What about lunch?”

“I ate with the kids in town.”

“But I haven’t eaten.”


“I was waiting for you,” he says. “There’s nothing in the house.”


“What am I supposed to have, then?”

The wife starts for the kitchen, then stops. “Actually, it’s not my job to figure out what you’re having for lunch.”
Location 2153

I understand this. Very much.

The nurse has trouble, as usual, finding a vein. “They’re way buried.”

“The one closer to the elbow usually works better—?”

“First let’s see what we can get over here.”
Location 2235

F---ing hate this when it happens. Look, I know my body better than you do, if I say use this other place, use this other place.

... the biographer wrote emails to her representatives. Marched in protests in Salem and Portland. Donated to Planned Parenthood. But she wasn’t all that worried. It had to be political theater, she thought, a flexing of muscle by the conservative-controlled House ...
Location 2249

Because those in power don't listen to the people they represent.

A smart spinster. If the daughter were to say that word in front of Ro/ Miss, she’d get a sermon: What does the word “spinster” do that “bachelor” doesn’t do? Why do they carry different associations? These are language acts, people!
Location 2292

She is too chickenshit to leave her marriage. She wants Didier to leave it first.
Location 2458

Why do some walruses in Washington, DC, who’ve never met the daughter care what she does with the clump? They don’t seem bothered that baby wolves are shot to death from helicopters. Those babies were already breathing on their own, running and sleeping and eating on their own, whereas the clump is not even a baby yet. Couldn’t survive two seconds outside the daughter.
Location 2469

“Tell me what’s going on, Mattie.”


“You’ve never gotten a B minus on a quiz before.”
Location 2482

Apparently my junior high school experience wasn't special, other smart girls had similar ones with grades slipping, too.

Women and Power

Book Notes

I first saw this book at the Getty Villa bookstore, when I didn't buy a bunch of physical books because I didn't want to carry them home, and was intrigued at the opening discussion about how Odysseus' wife Penelope's son told her to shut up when she voiced her opinion about her own future. Did I really read that opening correctly? Had I missed this when I was reading as a kid?

Yuuuuuuuuuup. I read it correctly. Yep, I missed it as a kid.

I picked up this book shortly thereafter from the library and read it quickly, it's a short book, essentially two essays from two lectures Mary Beard had given about women and, uh, power.

More specifically, the way women are seen in public discourse (not favorably) and in power (not favorably). Women have been dealing with being second class citizens for centuries, millennia even, of being told they are property or unfit or less.

Beard shows us the literature, gives us the quotes, demonstrates how over and over again power and the female gender do not go together historically. The concept isn't new, but it is finally, finally coming to the nation's, nay, the world's awareness.

My only gripe with the book is the subtitle, "A Manifesto." A manifesto is "a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate." This book is a reflection, it gives no guidance or policy or direction from where we have been. I wanted the direction.

I recommend the book, yes, but read it as "this is how it is and was," not "here's a path to change."

Women, in other words, may in extreme circumstances publicly defend their own sectional interests, but not speak for men or the community as a whole.
Page 14

As we saw with Telemachus, to become a man (or at least an elite man) was to claim the right to speak. Public speech was a – if not the – defining attribute of maleness.
Page 17

In the words many of us learned at school, she seems positively to avow her own androgyny: I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too –an odd slogan to get young girls to learn. The truth is that she probably never said anything of the sort. There is no script from her hand or that of her speech-writer, no eye-witness account, and the canonical version comes from the letter of an unreliable commentator, with his own axe to grind, written almost forty years later.
Page 22

A notorious recent case was the silencing of Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate – and her exclusion from the debate – when she attempted to read out a letter by Coretta Scott King.

Few of us, I suspect, know enough about the rules of senatorial debate to know how justified this was, formally. But those rules did not stop Bernie Sanders and other senators (admittedly in her support) reading out exactly the same letter and not being excluded.
Page 26

Do those words matter? Of course they do, because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say.
Page 30

It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they do not hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it; they don’t hear muthos.
Page 30

More interesting is another cultural connection this reveals: that unpopular, controversial or just plain different views when voiced by a woman are taken as indications of her stupidity.

It is not that you disagree, it is that she is stupid: ‘Sorry, love, you just don’t understand.’ I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called ‘an ignorant moron’.
Page 32

And I've lost count of the number of times a guy has told a woman she should "read the paper," when she's the one who authored said paper.

How do I get my point heard? How do I get it noticed? How do I get to belong in the discussion? I am sure it is something some men feel too, but if there’s one thing that bonds women of all backgrounds, of all political colours, in all kinds of business and profession, it is the classic experience of the failed intervention; you’re at a meeting, you make a point, then a short silence follows, and after a few awkward seconds some man picks up where he had just left off: ‘What I was saying was …’ You might as well never have opened your mouth, and you end up blaming both yourself and the men whose exclusive club the discussion appears to be.
Page 38

Why, yes, yes this was my experience at Twitter, thanks to Arnaud, who would routinely tell me no, but yes to the guy who repeated my words immediately after.

The regulation trouser suits, or at least the trousers, worn by so many Western female political leaders, from Angela Merkel to Hillary Clinton, may be convenient and practical; they may be a signal of the refusal to become a clothes horse, which is the fate of so many political wives; but they are also a simple tactic –like lowering the timbre of the voice –to make the female appear more male, to fit the part of power.
Page 54

Ben Cody once commented to me that I dress very conservatively. I wondered about his comment, have looked at my standard outfit, and realized that, well, yeah, it is remarkably conservative: no hijab, but all of my body is covered with many layers, my clothes are unshaped, and nothing beyond my hands and head are exposed. I'm not sure when I drifted into my uniform, but I know it was a defensive response to cultural pressures I didn't want.

And it was that idea of the divorce between women and power that made Melissa McCarthy’s parodies of the one time White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live so effective. It was said that these annoyed President Trump more than most satires on his regime, because, according to one of the ‘sources close to him’, ‘he doesn’t like his people to appear weak.’ Decode that, and what it actually means is that he doesn’t like his men to be parodied by and as women. Weakness comes with a female gender.
Page 54

"Weakness comes with a female gender." We all know Trump is weak, so go McCarthy and her parody!

But Athenian drama in particular, and the Greek imagination more generally, has offered our imaginations a series of unforgettable women: Medea, Clytemnestra and Antigone among many others. They are not, however, role models –far from it. For the most part, they are portrayed as abusers rather than users of power. They take it illegitimately, in a way that leads to chaos, to the fracture of the state, to death and destruction. They are monstrous hybrids, who are not, in the Greek sense, women at all. And the unflinching logic of their stories is that they must be disempowered and put back in their place. In fact, it is the unquestionable mess that women make of power in Greek myth that justifies their exclusion from it in real life, and justifies the rule of men.
Page 59

Then she’s a virgin, when the raison d’être of the female sex was breeding new citizens.
Page 69

Athena, warrior god, was portrayed as a man. Gotcha.

We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured.
Page 83

But I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.
Page 85

Those reasons are much more basic: it is flagrantly unjust to keep women out, by whatever unconscious means we do so; and we simply cannot afford to do without women’s expertise, whether it is in technology, the economy or social care.
Page 86

But this is still treating power as something elite, coupled to public prestige, to the individual charisma of so-called ‘leadership’, and often, though not always, to a degree of celebrity. It is also treating power very narrowly, as an object of possession that only the few – mostly men – can own or wield (that’s exactly what’s summed up by the image of Perseus, brandishing his sword). On those terms, women as a gender – not as some individuals – are by definition excluded from it.

You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘ to power’), not as a possession.

What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually. It is power in that sense that many women feel they don’t have –and that they want. Why the popular resonance of ‘mansplaining’ (despite the intense dislike of the term felt by many men)? It hits home for us because it points straight to what it feels like not to be taken seriously: a bit like when I get lectured on Roman history on Twitter.
Page 86

If I were starting this book again from scratch, I would find more space to defend women’s right to be wrong, at least occasionally.
Page 96

On Tyranny

Book Notes

I bought this book on a whim while visiting a newly opened journal / papergoods / travel lifestyle shop in Los Angeles a couple weeks back. The book was small, with the blurb, "The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, no unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience." Yes, okay, I'm interested, keep going.

Turns out, the whole book was one big smack upside the head, complete with actionable items to do to help stem the tide of tyranny currently rising in our country. While reading the book, I wanted to highlight every passage, share all of the lessons with everyone, buy a million copies and send them out to everyone I come in contact with in all aspects of life. It is a fast read, 128 pages, so even people who don't read much or fall asleep while reading (read: many of my relatives) can finish it.

The book reminds us that we are not special. Democracy has fallen many times in the last century, and we have the advantage of historical perspective to see what happened. We aren't coming into this blind, we can see what is happening. We can stop it. Others have, we aren't too late.

So, yeah, I strongly recommend this book, it is incredibly worth reading. Let me buy you a copy, ebook or physical, I don't care which. I want you to read this book.

The twenty lessons:

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don't protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of "terrorism" and "extremism." Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don't use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps "The Power of the Powerless" by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

It is your ability to discern facts that makes you an individual, and our collective trust in common knowledge that makes us a society.
Page 73

Like Hitler, the president used the word lies to mean statements of fact not to his liking, and presented journalism as a campaign against himself.
Page 73

We are free only insofar as we exercise control over what people know about us, and in what circumstances they come to know it.
Page 88

Words written in one situation make sense only in that context. The very act of removing them from their historical moment and dropping them in another is an act of falsification.
Page 89

In the twentieth century, all the major enemies of freedom were hostile to non-governmental organizations, charities, and the like.
Page 94

Today’s authoritarians (in India, Turkey, Russia) are also highly allergic to the idea of free associations and non-governmental organizations.
Page 94

To Ukrainians, Americans seemed comically slow to react to the obvious threats of cyberwar and fake news. When Russian propaganda made Ukraine a target in 2013, young Ukrainian journalists and others reacted immediately, decisively, and sometimes humorously with campaigns to expose disinformation.
Page 96

The most intelligent of the Nazis, the legal theorist Carl Schmitt, explained in clear language the essence of fascist governance. The way to destroy all rules, he explained, was to focus on the idea of the exception. A Nazi leader outmaneuvers his opponents by manufacturing a general conviction that the present moment is exceptional, and then transforming that state of exception into a permanent emergency. Citizens then trade real freedom for fake safety.
Page 100

People who assure you that you can only gain security at the price of liberty usually want to deny you both.
Page 100

Similarly, it is none too difficult to imagine choices that increase both freedom and safety, like leaving an abusive relationship or emigrating from a fascist state. It is the government’s job to increase both freedom and security.
Page 101

When the American president and his national security adviser speak of fighting terrorism alongside Russia, what they are proposing to the American people is terror management: the exploitation of real, dubious, and simulated terror attacks to bring down democracy.
Page 109

Courage does not mean not fearing, or not grieving. It does mean recognizing and resisting terror management right away, from the moment of the attack, precisely when it seems most difficult to do so.
Page 110

A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves.
Page 114

A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.
Page 114

The acceptance of inevitability stilted the way we talked about politics in the twenty-first century. It stifled policy debate and tended to generate party systems where one political party defended the status quo, while the other proposed total negation. We
Page 119

Eerily, when judges said that a parliamentary vote was required for Brexit, a British tabloid called them “enemies of the people”—a Stalinist term from the show trials of the 1930s.
Page 122

In his 2016 campaign, the American president used the slogan “America First,” which is the name of a committee that sought to prevent the United States from opposing Nazi Germany.
Page 123

The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems.
Page 123

itself. History allows us to see patterns and make judgments. It sketches for us the structures within which we can seek freedom.
Page 125

History permits us to be responsible: not for everything, but for something.
Page 125

One thing is certain: If young people do not begin to make history, politicians of eternity and inevitability will destroy it.
Page 126

Moon Over Soho

Book Notes

This is book 2 of the Peter Grant series.

Okay, yes, so my reading list contains a whole bunch of non-fiction books, to balance out the copious fiction I've been reading as of late. Except that I enjoyed Midnight Riot so much, that I ignored my entire reading list, expecting I could squeeze this book in before the next book on my list becomes due in 12 days. And hey, I managed it!

As I enjoyed the last Peter Grant book, I also enjoyed this Peter Grant book. The humour flavor isn't quite Dresden, clearly my reading yardstick for urban fantasy, but Aaronovitch still does the Talking To The Camera / Breaking The Fourth Wall style really well. The humour is drier than Dresden, but still great.

What I am particularly enjoying with the Grant series so far, other than the world building, the magic rules, Grant's scientific inquiry instead of mere acceptance of magic, and the dry wit, are the history lessons. Aaronovitch drops names and events into casual conversation and I'm left wondering, "Wait, what?" Off to Wikipedia I go, and, oh, there's the Great Stink, Tacitus, the sons of Mūsā ibn Shākir, and the Thief-Taker General Jonathan Wild. History lessons dropped into casual conversations that are completely fascinating!

I'm pretty sure once I finish the current 10 book reading list I have to clear the library holds I currently have, I'm going to rip through the next 5 Peter Grant books. Totally enjoying them, strongly recommended so far for fans of urban fantasy.

I knew all this because I’d been reading the Annals of Tacitus as part of my Latin training. He’s surprisingly sympathetic to the revolting Brits and scathing about the unpreparedness of the Roman generals who thought more of what was agreeable than expedient.
Page 1

Yeah. People. In war.

Whatever you see, he’d said, take as long a look as you need to get used to it, to accept it, and then move on as if nothing has changed.
Page 3

EVERY HOSPITAL I’ve ever been to has had the same smell, that whiff of disinfectant, vomit, and mortality.
Page 7

“Do I have a signature?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Nightingale. “When you practice, things have an alarming tendency to catch fire.”
Page 23

The sons of Mūsā ibn Shākir were bright and bold and if they hadn’t been Muslims would have probably gone on to be the patron saints of techno-geeks. They’re famous for their ninth-century Baghdad bestseller, a compendium of ingenious mechanical devices that they imaginatively titled Kitab al-Hiyal—The Book of Ingenious Devices.
Page 25

This is one I looked up. Fascinating!

And what do Nightingale and I have to measure vestigia with?
Page 26

When I read books, I listen to the audiobook when I'm out and about (usually walking) or doing errands or chores (raking leaves, washing dishes, etc.). I much prefer to read the words than to listen to the words, but when a story is engrossing, I want to keep going.

I happened to be listening to the book as I was reading it, and, oh, there are significant differences between the British and Amercian versions of the book. The ebook American version has "Nightingale and I," whereas the British audiobook has "me and Nightingale."

I have to say the "me and _______" form drives me nuts. It is an emerging speech pattern that makes me want to go all grammarian on people's asses when they use it. New pet peeve, I guess.

In 1986 Courtney Pine released Journey to the Urge Within and suddenly jazz was back in fashion and with it came my dad’s third and last brush with fame and fortune.
Page 26

Well, I guess I have a new album to consume now.

My dad always said that a trumpet player likes to aim his weapon at the audience, but a sax man likes to cut a good profile and that he always has a favorite side. It being an article of faith with my dad that you don’t even pick up a reed instrument unless you’re vain about the shape your face makes when you’re blowing down it.
Page 27

I’ve never been what you’d call a strong swimmer but if the alternative is being a statistic it’s amazing what you can pull out of the reserves.
Page 112

People don’t like to speak ill of the dead even when they’re monsters, let alone when they’re loved ones. People like to forget any bad things that someone did and why should they remember? It’s not like they’re going to do it again.
Page 119

The central atrium at the Trocadero Centre is four stories high with an open basement that added another story to the fall. The space is crisscrossed at random intervals by escalators, presumably because the architects felt that disorientation and an inability to find the toilets were integral parts of the shopping experience.
Page 223

Cracked me up.

“What made you think Ty would tell you?” asked Nightingale.

“She couldn’t help herself,” I said. “First law of gossip—there’s no point knowing something if somebody else doesn’t know you know it.
Page 239

You don’t experience a bomb blast so much as remember it afterward. It’s like a bad edit or a record jumping a groove. On one side of the moment there is music and laughter and romance and on the other—not pain, that comes later, but a stunned incomprehension.
Page 254

It’s weird watching an elderly parent when he’s half naked. You find yourself staring in fascination at the slack skin, the wrinkles, and the liver spots, and thinking—one day all that will be yours.
Page 259

I grabbed her wrist and twisted her knife hand up and away. The rule for fighting a person with a knife is to start off by making it point away from you and then ensure that it hurts too much to hold on to.
Page 263

Whatever you’ve been told, seeing is not believing. Your brain does a great deal of interpretation before it deigns to let your consciousness know what the hell is going on. If we’re suddenly exposed to something unfamiliar, a damaged human face, a car flying through the air toward us, something that looks almost but not quite human, it can take time, sometimes even seconds, for our minds to react.
Page 265

This is an example of the fourth wall explanation thingy that I enjoy.

It’s no fun looking down on people if you can’t let them know you’re above them.
Page 273

I’d been working on loosening the chimney stack with what I call impello vibrato, but Nightingale called will you stop messing about and pay attention, while Faceless had been chatting.
Page 273

For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.
Page 276

You do this because it is your job, because it’s necessary, and because, if you’re honest, you love it. Repeat this process until the bad dreams stop or you just get used to them—whichever comes first.
Page 283

Midnight Riot

Book Notes

This is book 1 of the Peter Grant series. Finally, a wizard who isn't named Harry. No, wait. Finally a wizard series not in Chicago. No, wait. I give up, it's a wizard in London, not Potter, not Verus, not Harry, but loads of fun, and I am wonderfully delighted to find another modern-day, urban-fantasy, adult wizard series. This book was recommended on, as the Rivers of London, which is the English title of this book. I thought, "Eh? Adult wizard not named Harry? Sign me up!"

I enjoyed this book enough to immediately check out book two from the library. I was planning on reading a few other books before reading the second one, but enjoyed this one enough to skip over the carefully curated to-be-read pile and read that one, too.

Right, so, this book.

Peter Grant is a a sucky cop in London. He happens to have a whiff of wizardly talent, which makes him qualified for an apprencticeship in the supernatural branch of the London police. He rather sucks at being a detective, missing a lot of details around him and being generally oblivious to much around him, but seems to do okay as a cop, with his size and such. His partner, a woman, however, is a fine detective, but has to work twice as hard to be seen as half as good.


Anyway, Grant has a bit of wizarding in him, and is recruited, with his training actually being difficult. Imagine that, wizarding powers that take some effort and a lot of hard work, over the course of weeks and months and years, to build up. IMAGINE THAT.

I like Grant's science bent, too. "Well, that's nice, but HOW?"

I'm glad there are seven books (so far!) in the series. It's going to be difficult not to read through all of them in one sitting.

This is why you have procedure, training and drill, so that you do things when your brain is too shocked to think for itself—ask any soldier.
Page 47

The window over the stairs had had sheets of black construction paper crudely taped over to block the sunlight.
Page 98

Nightingale said that everything was true, after a fashion, and that had to include vampires, didn’t it? I doubted they were anything like they were in books and TV, and one thing for certain, they absolutely weren’t going to sparkle in the sunlight.
Page 98

Cracking up here.

Despite what you think you know, most people don’t want to fight, especially when evenly matched. A mob will tear an individual to pieces and a man with a gun and a noble cause is happy to kill ever so many women and children, but risking a fair fight—not so easy.

That’s why you see those pissed young men doing the dance of “don’t hold me back” while desperately hoping someone likes them enough to hold them back. Everyone is always so pleased to see the police arrive, because we have to save them whether we like them or not.
Page 143

Magic, as Nightingale understood it, was generated by life. A wizard could draw on his own magic or on magic that he’d stored by enchantment, which sounded interesting but not relevant to exploding cash tills. However, life protected itself, and the more complex it was, the more magic it produced, but the harder it was to draw off. “It’s impossible to draw on magic from another human being,” said Nightingale. “Or even a dog, for that matter.”
Page 154

Even at closing time, Covent Garden was packed; the post-performance crowd was emerging from the Royal Opera House and looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat and a pose, while clusters of young people on school-sponsored holidays from all over Europe exercised their time-honored right to block the pavement from one side to the other.
Page 161

My dad had once told me that the secret to a happy life was never to start something with a girl unless you were willing to follow wherever it leads.
Page 172

Sometimes when someone tells you not to go somewhere, it’s better not to go there.
Page 189

The tube is a good place for this sort of conceptual breakthrough because, unless you’ve got something to read, there’s bugger all else to do.
Page 189

Nightingale’s breath started to falter.

“Keep breathing,” I said. “It’s a habit you don’t want to break.”
Page 204

The trouble with the old boy network is you can never be really sure whether it’s switched on or not and whether it’s operating in your interest or some other old boy’s.
Page 204

Sometimes you have to stand still and take the first blow, that way you see what the other man has in his hand, expose his intentions and, if that sort of thing is important to you, put yourself unequivocally on the right side of the law. And if the blow is so heavy that it puts you down? That’s just the risk you have to take.
Page 204

“How fast can you move something?” said Seawoll.

“Not as fast as a bullet,” I said.

“Really,” said Stephanopoulos. “How fast is that?”

“Three hundred and fifty meters per second,” I said. “For a modern pistol. Higher for a rifle.”

“What’s that in old money?” said Seawoll.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But if you lend me a calculator I can work it out.”
Page 207

I looked at Seawoll and he gave me the “at last he wakes up” look so beloved of teachers, senior detectives and upper-middle-class mothers.
Page 207

There we continued the time-honored tradition of brazenly lying through our teeth while telling nothing but the truth.
Page 210

“The Fire Brigade are sailors?”

“Not now,” she said. “But in the old days, when they were looking for disciplined guys who knew about water, ropes, ladders and didn’t freak out at altitude. On the other hand, you had a lot of sailors looking for a nice steady career on dry land—marriage made in heaven.”

“Still, Neptune,” I said. “Roman god of the sea?”

Beverley laid her head on my shoulder. Her hair was wet, but I wasn’t complaining. “Sailors are superstitious,” she said. “Even the religious ones know you got to have a little respect for the King of the Deeps.”
Page 256

“It’s not that I’m scared of commitment,” I said to the ceiling. “It’s just that I want to know what I’m committing to first.”
Page 264

“Was that part of the deal?” I asked.

“Apparently so,” said Dad. “Your mum thought it was, when I told her. She said that only a fool expects to get something for nothing.” That sounded like Mum, whose principal saying was, “If it doesn’t cost something it isn’t worth anything.” Actually her principal saying was, at least to me, “Don’t think you’ve got so big that I can’t still beat you.” Not that she ever beat me, a deficiency that she later blamed for my failure to pass my A-levels.
Page 267

“I don’t want to go,” said Henry Pyke.

“You must,” I said. “That’s the mark of true greatness in an actor—knowing, down to the precise moment, when to make his exit.”

“How wise of you, Peter,” said Henry Pyke. “That is the true mark of genius, to give oneself to one’s public, but to retain that private side, that secret space, that unknowable …”

“To leave them wanting more,” I said trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.

“Yes,” said Henry Pyke. “To leave them wanting more.”
Page 290

Saturn Run

Book Notes

Okay, with my renewed interest in many things Caltech, I learned about this book when I was looking at some Wikipedia page that referenced popular culture that included something about Caltech. I'll admit I knew about the big ones, Real Genius and the TV show Numb3rs. Books, however, I knew less so, with the exception of Contact.

This one was a new one for me, and, oh boy, am I glad I picked it up. I've enjoyed Sanford
book I've read so far, though I am deliberately avoiding the Prey series, because, eh, not really interested in those, more interested in the Virgil Flowers humour.

You can tell the Sanford parts reading Saturn Run, said definitely shows through. The characters in Saturn Run have a similar flavor. That the book starts at Tech doesn't hurt, either.

Basic premise: fluffy pretty-boy Caltech grad student is the first to spot a decelerating object near Saturn, and (because objects don't decelerate naturally in space), all hell^H^H^H^Hconspiracy theories break loose. Pretty much the US and China do a mad dash to Saturn to see what the hell this thing is. If not for the space race going on, we'd get there in a unified fashion, but, well, people.

The science in the book is lots of fun, and, much like The Martian, believable (which, I gather in the point, Ctein being Sanford's science guy). If you're not a fan of the science stuff, the long winded technical parts might suck for you. I thoroughly enjoyed them, and strongly recommend this book to my geeky friends who want a fun read. Non-geeky friends, read fast through those part maybe?

If you do read the book, note how quickly you discover that the fluffy guy really isn't so fluffy. Fun stuff.

The other thing is, I looked at his VA psych files, and I suspect Darlington does want something. Desperately. And we can give it to him.”

“What’s that?”

“He wants something to do,” Crow said. “Something serious.”
Page 31

Every smart person does.

“I’m really not interested in killing anybody,” Sandy said. He took a hit of Dos Equis. “Not anymore.”

“If you got to the point where you had to kill someone, you’d most likely be saving the whole crew, as well as your own ass,” Crow said.

Sandy said, “Okay. That, I could do.”
Page 40

Becca was annoyed with herself. She was about to take a trip that maybe one person in a million got to make, that every techie dreamed of, and she couldn’t stop thinking about heat flow integrals.
Page 71

One in a million would be over 7000 people. More like 100 million?

“Hold on a sec.” Howardson was reading through his logs. “I’m looking at the simulation optimization you requested six months back. It’s the right answer—it gets you there fastest, which is what you asked for. You wanted the fastest trip because it reduces the expenditure of life-support supplies.”


“But now you’ve changed the question. Implicitly, anyway. You don’t want to get there fastest, you want to get there soonest. Right?”

Crow interjected, “What’s the difference?”
Page 116

Oh boy.

“You may not feel that way in a minute. I’ve got news you’re not gonna like.”

“Santeros scrubbed the mission?”

“That’d make life simpler, not harder. She’s advanced the launch date by five months. You’ve got nine months to get ready.”

Becca responded, and when she ran out of breath, Vintner asked cheerfully, “All done? ’Cause, you know, you were repeating yourself there at the end. I think you said ‘bitch’ at least four times and ‘motherfucker’ five or six.”
Page 117

Cracked me up.

Becca fidgeted. Buying into a schedule she didn’t believe in was a plausible path to professional suicide. On the other hand, quitting in midstream would also trash her reputation. Game theory, she thought. If I quit now, I keep my professional integrity and it’s a sure loss. If I stick it out, there’s a chance I might be able to pull it off and no one will know that I was blowing smoke. A guaranteed loss vs. a possible win.
Page 119

Time to blow smoke!

The news links now had countdown clocks on their screens, and England’s Daily Mail announced a new construction disaster at the top of every cycle, along with rumors of zero-gravity orgies, secret contacts with the aliens (with photographs of Santeros talking with a meter-tall large-eyed silvery alien in the Oval Office), and rumors that the whole trip was a fraud by the Americans and Chinese, just as all twenty moon landings had been.
Page 153

Based on empirical evidence, what would actually happen.


“Nothing. I’ve been up here for weeks, never a thought about it—the separation. Now I’m thinking about it.” She pushed an egg around her plate, nibbled at a piece of toast.

“Well, stop thinking about it.”

“Not always that easy.” She looked past him, at the shrinking Earth out the window, and at the altitude display, which was steadily clicking off kilometers like a second hand, each clock-tick marking their increasing separation from home.

“No, but you’ll get used to it,” Clover said.
Page 167

Clover sighed and smiled at Sandy. “On our way. Thank God. Life gets easier when there aren’t any choices, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, exactly.”
Page 169

As they headed for the showers, Sandy said to Crow, “He kicked your ass. A pencil-necked shrink. A fuckin’ violinist. A snowflake. A delicate little flower . . .”

“In sports, the rules define outcomes,” Crow said. “He won because I wasn’t allowed to bite his nose off, knee him in the balls, or gouge his eyes out.”

“There’s gotta be some rules,” Sandy said.

“Really? I hadn’t heard that.”
Page 175

Only the criminally stupid or naïve assumed the “other side” was less clever. And who would that be in this case?
Page 183

Designing commercial power plant cooling systems meant dealing with company executives who felt the laws of engineering and even physics ought to be bent to improve the fiscal bottom line.
Page 194

And time. Time needs to be bent, too.

“Nah. The fact is, I don’t have music in my head,” Becca said. “If you don’t have music in your head, you can’t really play—all you can do is reproduce what’s on the page. No fun in that.”
Page 201

But she couldn’t let go of that structure. She’d seen him drawing, freehand, different concepts for guitars that he was manufacturing with Martinez, and asked him to teach her a little drawing. As it turned out, she could draw neither a straight line nor an accurate curved one. She insisted on drawing what she knew, rather than what she saw, a tendency not easily curable.
Page 216

“Sandy...” She paused for a moment, organizing her thoughts before responding. “I have to be. You are a rich, handsome, privileged, white guy. You get to play on the easy level. If you gave a crap, people would take you seriously, automatically, because guys like you get that as a freebie. I’m a short, blond woman who was raised Minnesota Nice, plus I have a cute face and I’m fat! How seriously do you think I’d get taken in the world if I didn’t regularly throw it in their faces?”
Page 218

Sandy’s gaze was fixed on her; it was a little unnerving when he focused like that. “But wouldn’t people like you better if you weren’t quite so, um...” He fumbled for a word.

Becca interrupted him. “What? Assertive? Aggressive? Pushy? Do you really think people will pay more attention to my technical advice, my expertise, if it comes from a nice Minnesota girl? Really?”
Page 219

“Didn’t do the drugs,” Crow said. “I wanted to feel it. I think if anything like that ever happened again, I’d do the drugs.”

“Which is why I’m sitting here watching this moronic vid with a smile on my face,” Sandy said. “They got good drugs now, man. You’re still all fucked up, but it doesn’t hurt as much.”
Page 253

The idea of drugs to help you get through the pain of grief while it is overwhelming, until it settles into a bearable dull ache? Fuck, sign me up for that.

The helmsman began to sob. It was not professional. Zhang found it entirely understandable.
Page 366

“Ma’am, we need to do more than plan for ship security. We also need to plan for what we’d do if security fails and the Chinese manage to take over the ship. That might be a small possibility, but we have to consider it.”
Page 388

“What happens is, your brain gets stuck in a feedback loop. Why did this happen? Is there something wrong with me that it keeps happening—first in the Tri-Border, and now here? What could I have done? What could I have said to her that I didn’t? You get these flashbacks and every time you flash back, the loop intensifies. The meds break the loop and smooth out the thought processes, and eventually time starts to erode the power of the flashbacks."
Page 391

Again, sign me up.

“You’ve been thinking about this.”

“My history in the Tri-Border: trust no one, everything breaks, nothing works as advertised, and if anything can go wrong, it will.”

“And you’re so young.”

“But getting older by the minute,” Sandy said.
Page 392

The level of failure that he felt, the deep melancholy, that was something he could barely endure. Every morning he woke from fitful sleep into a worse nightmare. He’d done his best to be a good commander, to make the right decisions, but all he could say of himself was that his very best had only been enough to keep a near-total disaster from being total.
Page 412

The Heart Goes Last

Book Notes

Margaret Atwood is ON FIRE as of late, what with Handmaid's Tale being made into a Netflix something or other. I recall reading Handmaid's Tale when I was working in a bookstore in high school, the book having been handed to me by my boss (who was a woman, yes). When I said, "It was okay," thereby indicating that I didn't understand the true lesson to be learned, she commented that I would understand later. She was right, and I wish I could find her and thank her for trying to explain to me just how much we were / are considered second class, just because of our power to create life.


Atwood. This book.

The premise is that the world has descended into an economic depression that took out the east half of the United States far worse than the left half. Given only crappy jobs are available, and those provide barely enough to sustain our protagonists, when an opportunity to live in a walled off city where half the time you are a normal person with a good job, and the other half of the time you are a slave (prisoner, what-have-you) but both times you have food to eat so it's okay, the not-really-that-smart-woman half of the protagonist couple says yes!

Understandable to crave security in an uncertain world. Less understandable to give up complete autonomy (read: freedom) to get it.

Lest one think this is the serpent tormenting the first-sin woman, the male protagonist went along with the whole plan.

Aaaaaand it turns out to be a series of twists and turns and misinterpretations and intrigue and holy sh-t she was okay doing what, and he did what's it now?

I kept waiting for the next plot twist, for the person who was an agent to be a double agent or a triple agent, but apparently I've been reading too many mystery books lately (Narrator: she hasn't been reading mystery books, she just doesn't trust anyone these days).

A couple of times I wanted to reach through the pages and slap the female protagonist, so there's that for being invested in a book.

If you're a fan of dystopian futures or Atwood, though the latter implies the former, definitely read this book.

If you want a good book club book to read about the direction our society seems to be going, have at it, this is also a good one.

She could watch the nearest flatscreen, where a baseball replay is going on, but she isn’t much interested in sports; she doesn’t see why a bunch of men chasing each other around a field and trying to hit a ball and then hugging and patting butts and jumping up and down and yelling can get people so worked up.
Page 29

“Hello,” she says. “Isn’t it a lovely day? Look at all that sunshine! Who could be down on a day like today? Nothing bad is going to happen to you.”

This is true: from all she’s observed, the experience appears to be an ecstatic one. The bad part happens to her, because she’s the one who has to worry about whether what she’s doing is right. It’s a big responsibility, and worse because she isn’t supposed to tell anyone what she’s actually doing, not even Stan.
Page 85

She’d have to slide the needle in while Stan was asleep, so he’d be denied a beatific exit. Which would be unfair. But there’s a downside to everything. What would she do with the body? That would be a problem.
Page 92

Okay, this is an element of the female protagonist that mortified me, that not only was murder a serious thought, but that casual murder was even remotely contemplated.

How dare she show herself to be everything he was so annoyed with her for not being?
Page 104

At those moments she’d say anything. What he doesn’t know is that in a way it’s always both at once: whichever one she’s with, the other one is there with her as well, invisible, partaking, though at an unconscious level.
Page 110

The hedge doesn’t need trimming – it’s the first of January, it’s winter, despite the lack of snow – but he finds the activity calming for the same reasons nail biting is calming: it’s repetitive, it imitates meaningful activity, and it’s violent.
Page 113

But crankiness leads to bad outcomes, if you don’t have any power to back up your crankiness. People blow you off, or else they get even crankier than you.
Page 116

No, because the contract is for life. That’s what they were all told before they signed. But – this is a new thought for Charmaine, and it’s not a nice one – there were no guarantees about how long that life might last.
Page 118

She should have run out of the room the first minute she laid eyes on him. She’s been such a pushover. And now she’s all alone.
Page 122

He hadn’t recognized it when they’d been living together – he’d underestimated her shadow side, which was mistake number one, because everyone has a shadow side, even fluffpots like her.
Page 125

Muck-raking journalists trying to worm their way in, to get evidence… to get pictures and other material that they can distort for so-called exposés, in order to turn the outside world against everything the Positron Project stands for. These shady so-called reporters aim to undermine the foundations of returning prosperity and to chip away at trust, that trust without which no society can function in a stable manner.
Page 146

Erosion of institutions leads to tyranny.

How to explain the wish of such people to sabotage such an excellent venture? Except by saying they are maladjusted misfits who claim to be acting as they do in the interests of so-called press freedom, and in order to restore so-called human rights, and under the pretense that transparency is a virtue and the people need to know.
Page 147


He himself has fucked his life up, but for the other people in here – anyone he knows, at least – this place beats the hell out of what they had before.
Page 148

“What was he talking about?” says another.

“What sounds? I didn’t hear anything.”

“We don’t need to know,” says a third.

“When people talk like that, it means don’t even listen, is what they mean.”
Page 153

But she’ll refuse to think about that, because you make your own reality out of your attitude, and if she thinks about it happening, then it will.
Page 179

Though why shouldn’t a person have both? says the voice in her head. I’m making an effort here, she answers. So shut up.
Page 181

I should have worked out more, he thinks. I should have done everything more. I should have cut loose from… from what? Looking back on his life, he sees himself spread out on the earth like a giant covered in tiny threads that have held him down. Tiny threads of petty cares and small concerns, and fears he took seriously at the time. Debts, timetables, the need for money, the longing for comfort; the earworm of sex, repeating itself over and over like a neural feedback loop. He’s been the puppet of his own constricted desires.
Page 187

The mere thought of her, and of the house he once found so boring, makes him feel weepy. But he can’t rewind anything. He’s stuck in the present.
Page 207

Sex in the movies used to be so much more sexy than it became after you could actually have sex in the movies. It was languorous and melting, with sighing and surrender and half-closed eyes. Not just a lot of bouncy athletics.
Page 233

Not flavourful but not awful. Something you didn’t want that had to be accepted because of something you did want.
Page 246

Oddly, he does look something like Elvis. Is that all we are? he thinks. Unmistakable clothing, a hairstyle, a few exaggerated features, a gesture?
Page 269

Consilience takes a dim view of drunks because they aren’t productive and they develop medical problems, and why should everyone pay because one individual has no self-control?
Page 314

This is, unfortunately, a common attitude today. Addiction is very often not about self-control.

Because there’s always two sides, at least two sides. Some say those who got their organs harvested and may subsequently have been converted into chicken feed were criminals anyway, and they should have been gassed, and this was a real way for them to pay their debt to society and make reparation for the harm they’d caused, and anyway it wasn’t as wasteful as just throwing them out once dead.
Page 354

Does loving Stan really count if she can’t help it? Is it right that the happiness of her married life should be due not to any special efforts on her part but to a brain operation she didn’t even agree to have? No, it doesn’t seem right. But it feels right. That’s what she can’t get over –how right it feels.
Page 366

If you do bad things for reasons you’ve been told are good, does it make you a bad person?
Page 376

“Nothing is ever settled,” says Jocelyn. “Every day is different. Isn’t it better to do something because you’ve decided to? Rather than because you have to?”

“No, it isn’t,” says Charmaine. “Love isn’t like that. With love, you can’t stop yourself.” She wants the helplessness, she wants…

“You prefer compulsion? Gun to the head, so to speak?” says Jocelyn, smiling. “You want your decisions taken away from you so you won’t be responsible for your own actions? That can be seductive, as you know.”
Page 379