|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.|
This is a cute book.
It showed up on a number of recommended books lists, mostly in young adult fiction. After reading Love in the Time of Cholera, I wanted a quick read, and this one was (read it in one sitting). It was also fun.
Instead of the usual trope of "boy meets girl," we have the premise of "boy wants to meet girl, is too shy to do so," which Kelly writes delightfully well. While there are moments of bullying in the book (and, yes, the scenes frustrated me, as all power abuse situations annoy me), and the ending is a bit tidy, the book is a children's book, so we can both forgive and appreciate these quirks.
The book won the 2018 Newbery Medal (perhaps another reason I added it to the reading pile), so clearly I am far far far from the only one who enjoyed this book and recommend it.
“How come so many of your stories have boys getting eaten by stuff, like rocks or crocodiles?”
“Not all of them are about boys getting eaten. Sometimes it’s girls.”
I only pray at night, because it’s my least favorite time of day. Everything is still and dark, and I have too much time to think.
“Do you believe in fate?” Lola sat back.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Certainly I do.”
“So you believe things happen for a reason?”
“Ay sus. Don’t talk with your mouth full. And yes, I do. I think good things happen for a reason. And bad things, too.”
Virgil swallowed. “Why do you always bring up the bad things?”
“If you didn’t have bad things, you wouldn’t have good things. They would all just be things. Did you ever think about that?”
Gen sat down with her legs stretched in front of her and grabbed her toes. She’d always been a wiggly girl.
This book has been on my reading list for a while now. I thought it was older than it is, having been published in 1985, in English in 1988. When I think about it, I am not surprised this book is in my awareness, as it was popular when I was working in bookstores. 100 Years of Solitude is also on my list, also by Gabriel García Márquez, which goes to show you that, like The Beautiful and Damned, I keep reading the other book, instead of the one actually on my reading list.
This book is a love story. Sorta. It's also a book about growing old.
It is a love story that tells you that love sucks when it is an intense longing that lasts. It is a love story that tells you that love is beautiful and enduring when it is a reciprocated one that lasts. It is a love story that considers love as a disease, something to endure and recover from. So many different ways to view love.
The book was a slow read for me, which means either I was deeply invested into the characters, or the book had a lot of words (or both). Translators affect how readable a book is (the translation for Inkheart, for example, spoils the beauty of the book), which is why I'm unsure if the translation affected my reading speed also.
What I liked most about the book, however, was the flawed characters. Fiction books are made up, and in that making up, authors can create lovable if flawed characters who still Do Something Impressive™. In this book, we have Fermina Daza, the woman who fell in love with the idea of Florentino Ariza, but realizes said love is actually a fantasy. So, yes, wow, the recognition of love as a passion that often has no basis in reality, go Fermina.
Yet, okay, Fermina is quick to anger, blames others even she is at fault, and is written as a mercurial person. Her husband, Juvenal Urbino, recognizes all of this and balances his world, changes his reactions, to accomodate her personality. Isn't this what we do for our loved ones? How long relationships last when we find the person whose quirks we can live with, accept the other person as who they are, and adapt without losing ourselves.
Or maybe more of our stories are fiction than we realize.
I enjoyed the book. It's a classic, so "of course" it's worth reading, if only for the beautiful imagery. I'd hand it to a friend who is asking for a slow, languid love story to read over the course of a couple weeks. Or for a literature course where you need 18 different interpretations to discuss to make the class interesting.
Internet attacks are incredibly common. Mob mentality and outrage du jour are so frequent they seem normal. They are not. They are not normal, they are not okay, they are not acceptable.
They occur with incredible frequency because we like to misinterpret, we like to take sides, we like to be outraged at someone else instead of doing the hard work of improving ourselves.
I often wonder what on this site is going to come back to bite me. Which post of mine is going to be taken out of context and held up for public scrutiny? Will it be the time I made a TSA agent cry, because that one received a number of "you shouldn't have been sexually assaulted by your government, what did you do wrong?" comments that, well, I chose not to publish, because ground rules. Maybe it'll be the part about Chris and Dana and their beliefs that gay people are second class citizens, oh, boy that incident was fun, where I was told to shut up about repeating what they said.
Regardless, it'll happen, I'm sure of it. Wouldn't it be a good thing to consider what I'll do when it happens? I think so, so I picked up this book to read.
The first part of the book had me wondering why I figured this would be a good book to read on the subject. It started out with, "Hey, look, here's what happened to me, the author," and went into something like, "huh, public shaming, it's a thing." And then I learned the story of Jonah Lehrer, which I headn't really paid much attention to at the time of its occurance. I could argue my life is better for not having been aware of Lehrer at the time, but I will admit I grew tired of the Twitter Outrage Of The Day™ many, many years ago.
I kept reading, however, as I do, and the book became interesting. It became relevant. It provided story after story of how internet public shaming is far, far worse than the public shaming of yester-century, and how incredibly damaging shame is.
So, how does one survive public shaming?
Turns out, the way to endure and survive public shaming is not to be shamed. Which cracks me up, because so many older people are outraged (OUTRAGED) and how shameless (SHAMELESS!) young folk seem to be. Perhaps there's a cause and effect there.
This book, along with Daring Greatly, goes a long way to providing a game plan for surviving public shame. I truly hope I never have to care, but, well, the Internet. It's a matter of when, not if.
I recommend this book, it's worth a read.
We were at the start of a great renaissance of public shaming. After a lull of almost 180 years (public punishments were phased out in 1837 in the United Kingdom and in 1839 in the United States), it was back in a big way.
“Bad liars always think they’re good at it,” Michael said to me. “They’re always confident they’re defeating you.”
When I finished the story, he said, “It’s about the terror, isn’t it?”
“The terror of what?” I said.
“The terror of being found out,” he said. He looked as if he felt he were taking a risk even mentioning to me the existence of the terror. He meant that we all have ticking away within us something we fear will badly harm our reputation if it got out—some “I’m glad I’m not that” at the end of an “I’m glad I’m not me.”
I think he was right. Maybe our secret is actually nothing horrendous. Maybe nobody would even consider it a big deal if it was exposed. But we can’t take that risk. So we keep it buried.
Maybe it’s a work impropriety. Or maybe it’s just a feeling that at any moment we’ll blurt something out during some important meeting that’ll prove to everyone that we aren’t proper professional people or, in fact, functional human beings. I think that even in these days of significant oversharing we keep this particular terror concealed, like people used to with things like masturbation before everyone suddenly got blasé about it online. With masturbation, nobody cares. Whereas our reputation—it’s everything.
"But at the time I didn’t think it was wrong. If I’d thought it was wrong, I would have taken some trouble to hide my tracks.”
There must have been among her shamers a lot of people who chose to willfully misunderstand it for some reason.
I think this is a key attribute of today's society. We choose to willfully miscontrue what other people are saying, like it's a game to show someone where they are wrong and you get points each time you twist the truth into bullshit.
I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.
I suppose it’s no surprise that we feel the need to dehumanize the people we hurt — before, during, or after the hurting occurs. But it always comes as a surprise.
In psychology it’s known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the idea that it feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time (like the idea that we’re kind people and the idea that we’ve just destroyed someone). And so to ease the pain we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior.
Ted Poe’s punishments were sometimes zany — ordering petty criminals to shovel manure, etc. — and sometimes as ingenious as a Goya painting. Like the one he handed down to a Houston teenager, Mike Hubacek.
In 1996, Hubacek had been driving drunk at one hundred miles per hour with no headlights. He crashed into a van carrying a married couple and their nanny. The husband and the nanny were killed.
Poe sentenced Hubacek to 110 days of boot camp, and to carry a sign once a month for ten years in front of high schools and bars that read I KILLED TWO PEOPLE WHILE DRIVING DRUNK, and to erect a cross and a Star of David at the scene of the crash site, and to keep it maintained, and to keep photographs of the victims in his wallet for ten years, and to send ten dollars every week for ten years to a memorial fund in the names of the victims, and to observe the autopsy of a person killed in a drunk-driving accident.
And it worked. Hubacek did this, took responsibility for his actions.
“The justice system in the West has a lot of problems,” Poe said, “but at least there are rules. You have basic rights as the accused. You have your day in court. You don’t have any rights when you’re accused on the Internet. And the consequences are worse. It’s worldwide forever.”
It felt like we were soldiers making war on other people’s flaws, and there had suddenly been an escalation in hostilities.
He conceded that a few “distinguished women” did exist, but “they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity . . . Consequently, we may neglect them entirely.”
I wish said asshat didn't have people who, even these days, believe his crap.
“When I was writing my biography of LeBon,” Bob Nye told me, “he seemed to me the biggest asshole in the whole of creation.”
And his second message was that a smart orator could, if he knew the tricks, hypnotize the crowd into acquiescence or whip it up to do his bidding. LeBon listed the tricks: “A crowd is only impressed by excessive sentiments. Exaggerate, affirm, resort to repetition, and never attempt to prove anything by reasoning.”
“The ‘only acting’ line is a red herring,” Haslam wrote, “because if you are on the receiving end of brutality it doesn’t matter if the person was acting or not.”
“Acting is not ‘unserious,’” Reicher added. “Even if we are performing, the question remains, ‘Why did we act in a particular way?’”
This is in regards to the Stanford Prison Experiment, where the one "guard" who instigated the whole abuse thing says he was "only acting the part, making things interesting" because that's what the researcher wanted.
“The irony of those people who use contagion as an explanation,” Steve Reicher e-mailed, “is that they saw the TV pictures of the London riots but they didn’t go out and riot themselves. It is never true that everyone helplessly joins in with others in a crowd. The riot police don’t join in with a rioting crowd. Contagion, it appears, is a problem for others.”
"So the question we have to ask—which ‘contagion’ can’t answer—is, How come people can come together, often spontaneously, often without leadership, and act together in ideologically intelligible ways? If you can answer that, you get a long way toward understanding human sociality. That is why, instead of being an aberration, crowds are so important and so fascinating.”
I asked Mercedes what sorts of people gathered on 4chan. “A lot of them are bored, understimulated, overpersecuted, powerless kids,” she replied. “They know they can’t be anything they want. So they went to the Internet. On the Internet we have power in situations where we would otherwise be powerless.”
By some strange circular coincidence, it was Jonah Lehrer’s fellow New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell who had popularized the stop-and-frisk policy. When it was first implemented in the 1990s—it was known as broken-windows policing back then—Gladwell wrote a landmark New Yorker essay about it, “The Tipping Point.” He called it “miraculous.” There was a correlation between coming down heavy on petty criminals like graffiti artists and fare dodgers, his essay argued, and New York’s sudden decline in murders.
Yet another reason Gladwell books are garbage. REALLY not a fan of his "let me take a story, claim it is scientific evidence, and print a book about it" style of story telling.
"Part of the reason all these kids have become experts on the Internet is because they don’t have power anywhere else. Skilled trade is shrinking. That’s why they went there. And then, holy shit, it blew up.”
I asked Mercedes to explain to me one of the great mysteries of modern shamings—why they were so breathtakingly misogynistic.
Nobody had used the language of sexual violence against Jonah, but when Justine and Adria stepped out of line, the rape threats were instant. And the 4chan people were about the most unpleasant.
“Yeah, it’s a bit extreme,” Mercedes replied. “4chan takes the worst thing it can imagine that person going through and shouts for that to happen. I don’t think it was a threat that anyone intended to carry through. And I think a lot of its use really did mean ‘destroy’ rather than ‘sexually assault.’” She paused. “But 4chan aims to degrade the target, right? And one of the highest degradations for women in our culture is rape. We don’t talk about rape of men, so I think it doesn’t occur to most people as a male degradation. With men, they talk about getting them fired. In our society men are supposed to be employed. If they’re fired, they lose masculinity points. With Donglegate she pointlessly robbed that man of his employment. She degraded his masculinity. And so the community responded by degrading her femininity.”
From his look, I guessed he considered them places of integrity — nonexploitative, shame-free retreats from a world that overvalues shame as a weapon.
Eventually, General Motors was forced to admit the plot and apologize to Nader in a congressional hearing. The incident proved to him, and later to Max, that the car industry was not above trying to shame its opponents into silence in its battle against safety do-gooders, and that people in high places were prepared to ingeniously deploy shaming as a means of moneymaking and social control. Maybe we only notice it happening when it’s done too audaciously or poorly, as it had been with Ralph Nader.
Ha. Like we would believe corporations are good. Even the best, nicest, cleanest corporations are made up of people, and there is always more than one side.
“Growing up I was ashamed of everything,” she wrote, “and at a certain point I realized that if I was open with the world about the things that embarrassed me they no longer held any weight! I felt set free!” She added that she always derives her porn scenarios from this formula. She imagines circumstances that would mortify her, “like being bound naked on a street with everybody looking at you,” and enacts them with like-minded porn actors, robbing them of their horror."
Donna nodded but said she didn’t want to talk about other parts of the porn industry. She wanted to talk about what she was trying to achieve with Public Disgrace. “America is a very puritanical place,” she said. “If I can help one person feel less freakish and alone because of what they like, then I’ll be a success. But I know I’ve already reached more people than that.”
And now, he wrote, he thought he had the answer. It was simply that he had refused to feel ashamed. “As soon as the victim steps out of the pact by refusing to feel ashamed,” he said, “the whole thing crumbles.”
I reread Max’s e-mail. Could that be it? Does a shaming only work if the shamee plays his or her part in it by feeling ashamed?
And on it went. Almost none of the murderous fantasies were dreamed up in response to actual danger—stalker ex-boyfriends, etc. They were all about the horror of humiliation. Brad Blanton was right. Shame internalized can lead to agony. It can lead to Jonah Lehrer. Whereas shame let out can lead to freedom, or at least to a funny story, which is a sort of freedom too.
But there was one exception, Andrew said. The conversation between them turned to the one woman who had visited Alexis.
“Everyone was laughing about her,” Andrew said. “Then, suddenly, this one older gentleman, who had been much quieter than the others, said, ‘That was my wife.’ Oh, Jon, you could feel the energy shift. Everything changed immediately.”
“What kind of jokes had you all been making about the wife?” I asked.
“I don’t remember exactly,” Andrew said, “but they had been more mocking. She was looked at differently by the men and, yes, with her it was considered more shameful.”
But the shifting sands of shameworthiness had shifted away from sex scandals—if you’re a man—to work improprieties and perceived white privilege, and I suddenly understood the real reason why Max had survived his shaming. Nobody cared. Max survived his shaming because he was a man in a consensual sex shaming—which meant there had been no shaming.
I think we all care deeply about things that seem totally inconsequential to other people. We all carry around with us the flotsam and jetsam of perceived humiliations that actually mean nothing. We are a mass of vulnerabilities, and who knows what will trigger them?
“An apology is supposed to be a communion—a coming together. For someone to make an apology, someone has to be listening. They listen and you speak and there’s an exchange. That’s why we have a thing about accepting apologies. There’s a power exchange that happens. But they don’t want an apology.” He looked at me. “What they want is my destruction. What they want is for me to die. They will never say this because it’s too histrionic. But they never want to hear from me again for the rest of my life, and while they’re never hearing from me, they have the right to use me as a cultural reference point whenever it services their ends. That’s how it would work out best for them. They would like me to never speak again.”
But I think he read all this in my face, because he suddenly said: “The way we construct consciousness is to tell the story of ourselves to ourselves, the story of who we believe we are. I feel that a really public shaming or humiliation is a conflict between the person trying to write his own narrative and society trying to write a different narrative for the person. One story tries to overwrite the other. And so to survive you have to own your story. Or”—Mike looked at me—“ you write a third story. You react to the narrative that’s been forced upon you.” He paused. “You have to find a way to disrespect the other narrative,” he said. “If you believe it, it will crush you.”
“Let me ask you three questions,” he said. “And then you’ll see it my way.
"Question One: What’s the worst thing that you have ever done to someone? It’s okay. You don’t have to confess it out loud.
"Question Two: What’s the worst criminal act that has ever been committed against you?
"Question Three: Which of the two was the most damaging for the victim?”
“Oh, it’s a very simple game,” he said. “You need to figure out something that’s so esoteric the expert can’t possibly know about it. Maybe it’s something that’s not relevant to the case, but it has to be something they cannot know the answer to. They’ll be incapable of saying they don’t know. So they’ll gradually walk down the garden to the place where they look really stupid.”
“Why are they incapable of saying they don’t know?”
“It’s their entire profession,” Clive said. “It’s respect. It’s a big deal being an expert. Imagine the things you can discuss at dinner parties as opposed to the other boring people at the table. You’re the witness who put Ted Bundy away. They’ll do anything to not look stupid. That’s the key thing. And if you can make them look stupid, everything else falls by the wayside.”
Then I caught myself. Judging someone on how flustered he behaves in the face of a shaming is a truly strange and arbitrary way of forming an opinion on him.
This is the reason why: Throughout the 1980s, Gilligan ran experimental therapeutic communities inside Massachusetts’s prisons. They weren’t especially radical. They were just about “treating the prisoners with respect,” Gilligan told me, “giving people a chance to express their grievances and hopes and wishes and fears.”
The point was to create an ambience that eradicated shame entirely. “We had one psychiatrist who referred to the inmates as scum. I told him I never wanted to see his face again. It was not only antitherapeutic for the patients, it was dangerous for us.”
At first, the prison officers had been suspicious, “but eventually some of them began to envy the prisoners,” Gilligan said. “Many of them also needed some psychiatric help. These were poorly paid guys, poorly educated. We arranged to get some of them into psychiatric treatment. So they became less insulting and domineering. And violence dropped astoundingly.”
I want more of these programs, tbh.
But we know that people are complicated and have a mixture of flaws and talents and sins. So why do we pretend that we don’t?
“It’s disorienting,” I said, “that the line between hell and redemption in the U.S. justice system is so fine.”
“What the first page looks like,” Michael’s strategist, Jered Higgins, told me during my tour of their offices, “determines what people think of you.” As a writer and journalist—as well as a father and human being—this struck me as a really horrifying way of knowing the world.
Justine had tweeted them herself, laboring under the misapprehension—the same one I labored under for a while—that Twitter was a safe place to tell the truth about yourself to strangers. That truth telling had really proven to be an idealistic experiment gone wrong.
But I was struck by a report Anna Funder discovered that had been written by a Stasi psychologist tasked with trying to understand why they were attracting so many willing informants. His conclusion: “It was an impulse to make sure your neighbor was doing the right thing.”
“The biggest lie,” he said, “is, The Internet is about you.” We like to think of ourselves as people who have choice and taste and personalized content. But the Internet isn’t about us. It’s about the companies that dominate the data flows of the Internet.
Some things were known. In December 2013, the month of Justine’s annihilation, 12.2 billion Google searches took place—a figure that made me feel less worried about the possibility that people were sitting inside Google headquarters personally judging me. Google’s ad revenue for that month was $ 4.69 billion. Which meant they made an average of thirty-eight cents for every search query. Every time we typed anything into Google: thirty-eight cents to Google. Of those 12.2 billion searches that December, 1.2 million were people searching the name Justine Sacco. And so, if you average it out, Justine’s catastrophe instantaneously made Google $ 456,000.
"Google has the informal corporate motto of ‘Don’t be evil,’ but they make money when anything happens online, even the bad stuff.”
“I suddenly feel with social media like I’m tiptoeing around an unpredictable, angry, unbalanced parent who might strike out at any moment,” he said. “It’s horrible.”
That line about how we don’t feel accountable during a shaming because “a snowflake never feels responsible for the avalanche” came from Jonathan Bullock.
I have had this book on my shelf for over a year, and this week was the time to start reading it. I'm pretty sure it came into my awareness because the third book in the trilogy was being released and both the first and second book won the Hugo awards. So, bought, not read, until now.
The book opens with three three stories being told. The Fifth Season is a recurring but not periodic time of "catastrophic climate change." The people prepare for these upheavals, and for the most part survive them. The plot begins with a man triggering the Fifth Season to end the world.
Sometimes one thinks, "People," shakes her head, wonders if such an event might not actually be our unexpected end, if not in the same format.
Unsurprisingly, since the book won a Hugo, I liked it. The world building is great, the story telling engaging. At one point during the book, two of the storylines merged, so, unsurprising if you know me, I "skipped to the end" and determined that all three storylines merge, and was able to return to the place I left off and keep reading. There were a couple moments where I actually yelled, "No!" to a part of the story, so clearly the Reader is Invested™.
Strongly recommend this book. It's a beautiful if heart-breaking-in-moments book. I'll be reading the next one when it drops from my library hold into my checkout queue.
There is an art to smiling in a way that others will believe. It is always important to include the eyes; otherwise, people will know you hate them.
This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.
They chose to keep something rather than lose everything.
Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default.
This is pretty much how non-privileged groups of people feel.
"The people we love are the ones who hurt us the most, after all.”
"Survival doesn’t mean rightness. I could kill you right now, but that wouldn’t make me a better person for doing so.”
“Children are the undoing of us,” Alabaster says, his eyes full of the fire.
She can feel nothing but pity for the boy, relief for his release.
"But then, how can they? Who misses what they have never, ever even imagined? That would not be human nature."
She’s never been able to use hot water every day like this, tons of it just falling from holes in the ceiling like the most perfect rain ever. She tries not to be obvious about it, because some of the other grits are Equatorials and would laugh at her, the bumpkin overwhelmed by the novelty of easy, comfortable cleanliness. But, well, she is.
“Come on in, and I’ll show you a marvel or three.” As if she hasn’t already done so. But you move to follow her, because neither myths nor mysteries can hold a candle to the most infinitesimal spark of hope.
She’s whispering, because that’s what one does in the dark.
Syen doesn’t really need Alabaster to explain that Innon is telling everyone a story—because Innon does this with his whole body. He leans forward and speaks more softly, and everyone is riveted to whatever tense moment he is describing.
Flirting unnerves her. Much better to be straightforward like this.
Oh, heavens yes.
Innon laughs — softly, for him — and shifts to lean sideways against the wall, perpendicular to Syenite so that she will not feel boxed in, even though he’s close enough that she can feel his body heat. Something big men do, if they want to be considerate rather than intimidating. She appreciates his thoughtfulness.
Here is what you need to understand. In any war, there are factions: those wanting peace, those wanting more war for a myriad of reasons, and those whose desires transcend either. And this is a war with many sides, not just two.
“You’re always restless. What are you looking for?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
You want to ask more about that, then decide against it. If he wanted you to understand, he would’ve explained.
As you sigh, you hear him say, softly, “I won’t hurt you.”
You blink at this, then lower your hands slowly. It hadn’t even occurred to you that he might. Even now, knowing what he is, having seen the things he can do… you’re finding it hard to think of him as a frightening, mysterious, unknowable thing.
“It’s a gift if it makes us better. It’s a curse if we let it destroy us."
It’s reassuring, though, somehow. The kind of lie she needs to hear.
Syenite brings a truly awful novel someone found on the looted freighter, the sort of thing whose first page made her wince and burst into giggles. Then, of course, she kept reading. She loves books that are just for fun.
“I’ve never wanted much from life. Just to be able to live it, really. I’m not like you, Syen. I don’t need to prove myself. I don’t want to change the world, or help people, or be anything great. I just want… this.”
This book, along with Dark Orbit were two books recommended by Daniel Goldsmith, as two of the books on Kameron Hurley's Five Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity. Other than "recommended by someone whose opinion I value" and "is science fiction," I didn't really know what to expect.
The world building was great. While I didn't really understand the motivation of The Stranger (always need some conflict in a plot, and this one included the introduction of A Stranger™), and why everyone in the colony was okay with his incredible pushiness. Of course, it was revealed in the end, so that mystery was solved.
The main character though, wow, does Newman get some of the personality imbalances correct. At one point, her despair comes through so strongly I had to stop reading for a bit.
The book is clearly the first in a series, and I've read the second books is darker than this one, but the end of this one was good enough to be a stand along book. If you're a science fiction fan, this is a good read.
I think “majority” is one of my least favorite words. It’s so often used to justify bad decisions.
The resurgence of this kind of religious talk makes the skin on the back of my neck prickle. The times it’s blossomed in the colony have brought us closer to self-destruction than anything Mack has kept hidden.
“This is wrong, Renata.” My father’s voice had dropped to a lower register, one within the vocal domain of disappointment. Even though I was in my late twenties I still felt the same twinge in my chest that his disapproval elicited when I was much younger. It irritated me. When would I stop being a child?
Answer: to our parents, never.
“Don’t exaggerate.” I sat down, automatically keeping my weight off the back left leg of the chair that had already broken once. “I stood on the shoulders of a lot of people. Nobody does anything single-handedly anymore.”
Nope. You didn't make that.
I can’t remember why I came back. Perhaps it was simply a matter of having formed enough emotional scar tissue to cope. Perhaps my curiosity steadily built up its own pressure until it became more powerful than the avoidance.
There’s no sound except the wildlife staking out territories and calling for a mate. The sounds are different here than on Earth, but the purpose seems the same. “This is my patch!” they scream. “I want sex! Come and shag me! I’ll give you strong babies!” It’s the same stuff humans say most of the time. We just dress those needs up in fancier linguistic clothes.
Sung-Soo is leaning against one of the windows, hands cupped either side of his face to shield out the light as he peers in. Even though there’s no way he can see inside, I’m still irritated. Why do people do that when there’s no answer at a door? Do they expect to see the resident in there, feet up, oblivious? Are they checking they’re not being snubbed, rather than whether the resident is at home?
I can feel my lip curling in disgust at my younger self’s taste for melodrama.
and the clothes I’ve moved to find the top I’m wearing now. I need the tightness around me, like being held, before I open the file.
It takes a few minutes to summon the courage to open the file, and it’s only my irritation with myself that makes me do it in the end. The worrying about how it will make me feel has finally been ousted by the desire to stop feeling the twisting tightness in my chest. I need to be able to think of something else.
I can’t help looking down, now that she’s put the idea in my head, and I trace the outline of her buttocks through the flight suit, the way her hips flare out at the tops of her thighs, far wider than her waist and shoulders. She used to hate her short legs and pear-drop shape but since the coma she’s been above such things. I look away when Mack clears
There may be only a thousand or so people here, but it’s easy enough to make the pressure of conformity irresistible. Hell, sometimes we only need one other person to make us fall into line.
He knows that I’m struggling because he has struggled every year. I need to be kinder to him. I don’t know a better way to handle this and I don’t like what he’s doing, but it doesn’t change the fact that it has a cost for him too.
I’m too wired mentally and too exhausted physically to be able to cope with being curled up, awake and caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of guilt and reminiscence.
I groan. “This isn’t a good time.”
“I have the feeling there won’t ever be a good time.”
We stare at each other, his hands palm up and his face open and expectant. I feel like a child given one of those utterly shit choices parents offer to trick the child into thinking it has a say in anything: “Do you want to record that thank-you vid for Aunt Jasmine now or after dinner?”
I stand in the doorway, chewing my thumbnail for what seems like a horribly long time. Unable to act, I check my in-box and the network, but all the while I know I’m merely trying to divert my attention away from this paralysis.
Even though I’m aware of the inherent bias of getting attached to the first explanation of a mystery, I can’t shake it.
He smiles, but the usual warmth and delight is guarded now. I’m not the person he thought I was. I have no idea who that was supposed to be. Now he knows what I’m really like. A sour thought, if there ever was one.
Before I was nothing more than an unbearable throbbing pain with a mind and voice. Now I feel other parts of my body.
I close my eyes and take a moment to suppress the panic that’s rising within. Losing my shit is not going to help.
“Perhaps you should take up running,” I suggest.
“Outside. Or in the gym. There’s one under the Dome.”
“What would I chase?”
“No, I mean run for the sake of running.”
He looks at me like I’m an idiot.
Mack understands these people far too well. They may be scientists and experts and handpicked from thousands of hopefuls vying for every single place on Atlas, but they’re just people.
How much easier to regret not leaving than being here now—knowing so much and yet so little—so very far from home.
I don’t remember as clearly as I do the sight of the old plane trees in the London square her flat overlooked. It was fenced off from people who couldn’t afford to touch the peeling bark on the trees. Those were reserved for dogs owned by the wealthy to piss against three times a day when walked by the au pair.
“I’m glad you told me. I understand. It would kill you to be left behind, always wanting to know what they’ll find. You wouldn’t be living anymore, wishing yourself so far away.”
By then I was so mired in the physicality of exhaustion that I’d forgotten to be hopeful. We’re such base creatures, so easily pulled from higher things by the needs of the body.
The sequel to this book is coming out soon, or was just published, or something of the sort, and is being promoted heavily, which means this book is also being promoted heavily. So.... no surprise it ended up on my reading list. I had, I don't know, enough non-fiction books read that a binge on fiction books didn't seem TOO out of character for me, and this one was available at the library, so, I read it.
Definitely a young adult book, though I'm not fully sure why I feel that way. Maybe the speed of the reading, maybe the uncomplicated words used, maybe the plot, maybe the characters themselves are young, maybe the lack of subtlety, I don't know. The book felt YA in a way that many YA don't feel.
Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it. I did, it just wasn't a difficult read. Fast paced fluff, set in a magical alternate universe of feudal Japan. All the "women are property" and "boys fight with swords" and "this boy happens to have none of the usual hormones in him during his teens" stereotypes of how feudal Japan is viewed from the West.
Quick read, I added the sequel to my reading list, putting the hold out at two months. I'm somewhat invested in the characters, but not enough to drop everything. It's a cute book, and recommended if you're a fan of the genre or the author. If you want a great review of the book from someone writing a review and not just posting notes as I am, Alex Brown has a good one, which also lists more eloquently some of the reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for the book (because it's been done before).
She knew she was being difficult. Knew Nobutada wished for her to make a decision. At the very least, wished for her to offer an opinion. To make a useless play at control. A play Nobutada could then smugly subvert, as her elder. As a man.
Try as she might, Mariko could not help the resentment simmering beneath the surface. Control is an illusion. Expectations will not rule my days. Not anymore.
She softened her tone—a pitiful attempt to mollify him. One that was sure to chafe, as her contrary nature so often did. Her brother, Kenshin, frequently gave her grief about it. Frequently told her to be less ... peculiar. To conform, at least in these small ways.
Yeah, less odd.
A constant reminder. But he could not afford to feel remorse for his past decisions. They had not been made lightly.
This was an experiment, and experiments of all sorts intrigued her. They offered a way to glean knowledge. To use it—shape it, mold it—into whatever she needed it to be.
Hattori Mariko had lived a life disdaining much of the silk and luxury her status had afforded her, and there was a delicious comfort in no longer having to put on airs that had always seemed so foreign to her.
Sometimes we must fall forward to keep moving. Mariko had not understood it at the time. Only recently had she begun to grasp its meaning. Remain motionless—remain unyielding—and you are as good as dead. Death follows indecision, like a twisted shadow. Fall forward. Keep moving. Even if you must pick yourself up first.
“If you intend to take anything, then take my advice,” he said. “This one time only, I’ll offer it without cost: the best way to win a fight is to avoid it.”
“You haven’t brought your sword to be polished in quite some time.” Amaya stepped toward him. “My father mentioned it only yesterday.” She held out her left hand. “Give it to me.”
“I am not calm,” she said finally. “It’s a constant effort to quell my fear.”
“Then why bother?”
“Because I do not wish to appear weak.”
“And you shouldn’t dismiss your abilities. It insults both you and me at the same time.” Another raise of his brows. She suspected people did not often speak to Yoshi in such a direct manner.
“Is that so?”
“Yes. You insult yourself by dismissing skills that took you a lifetime to develop. At the same time you insult me by stating that I need only try—as though the only hindrance is my own lack of effort.” Mariko’s speech grew more rapid with each passing word. She took a deep breath before continuing. “To even attempt something, one must first believe in the possibility. And then be granted an opportunity.”
“Consistency is not enough. It doesn’t account for chance, and there is always a chance the handle will strike the mark instead of the blade. No amount of skill can thwart it every time.”
“I believe the stars align so that souls can find one another. Whether they are meant to be souls in love or souls in life remains to be seen.”
Beautiful words were beautiful words, even to the most practical of minds.
“Have you ever loved anyone?” she asked Ranmaru bluntly, pleased to see him startle, if only for a heartbeat. Serves him right for starting this mess. Ranmaru hesitated before replying.
“Did it feel like magic?”
Irritation bled into each syllable. “Sometimes it does.” But his smile was not from the heart. “Other times it feels like an endless siege.”
“Another reason I cannot possibly be water.” Though there was heat to her words, she kept her voice even. “Water is temperamental. It doesn’t assume any shape on its own. It takes the shape of whatever is around it. And I have never wished to be controlled by my surroundings.”
“And yet you are, all the same.” She splashed water at him. His smile was thoughtful. “Water is not beholden to anything. It can cut through rock. It can vanish into thin air. With time, it can even destroy iron. You should not see it as a weakness.”
“Do you want me to promise?”
“Promises mean nothing to me.” Ōkami’s tone was soft. Severe. “They are words said to assuage any fool who wishes to believe.”
“Don’t draw a line. Unless you wish for me to cross it.”
“Well then, don’t cross it.”
Don't think about elephants.
“It’s the meaning I give it. Each breath exists for that one moment only. We live for that one moment only.”
“Don’t have expectations of me. Don’t look at me and think you should be seeing something else.”
For all those times a man had caused her to feel fear. For all those times she’d been made to think something was wrong with her. For all those times she’d been forced to believe a girl was somehow less than a boy.
“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”
“The only power any man has over you is the power you give him.”
This is Book 7 of The Expanse series
Ah, yes, the Expanse series. Again, as before, reading this book was like coming home. Yes, the plot starts twenty years after the end of the last book, yes, the book includes Holden and his righteous ass, yes, everyone is the same and everyone isn't the same, twenty years changes a lot.
The ship is transferred to Bobbie, we all saw that coming. The dynamics of the power exchange are tense, we all, also, saw that coming, if only because we react similarly when our worlds shift, and James S. A. Corey, I mean, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, know how to write people.
I read enough "but I don't want to spoil it for you!" blurbs to know someone dies somewhere in the book, so I went ahead and read the plot summary on Wikipedia, which does spoil that particular plot point for the reader. I actively wanted to know so that I could read the book in peace, ymmv.
I noticed I started reading more slowly in the second half of the book, and recognized I was going it so that the book would last longer. I did enjoy the book (unlike Cibola Burn, which nearly turned me off the series), and would recommend the series to any science fiction fan (if only so that they could see Holden's actions at the end, so worth it).
In the time he’d worked with Winston Duarte, Paolo had found much to admire in the man. The high consul was intelligent, given to astounding leaps of comprehension on complex topics but still measured and thoughtful in his decision making.
Duarte valued the counsel of others but was decisive and firm once the information was gathered. He could be charismatic and warm without ever seeming false or insincere. But more than anything else, Paolo respected his total lack of pretension.
Many lesser people, holding a position like absolute military dictator of an entire planet, would wrap themselves in pomp and glittering palaces. Duarte had instead built the State Building of Laconia.
“The ironic thing?” Duarte said. “I’ve always rejected the great-man idea. The belief that human history was formed by singular individuals instead of broad social forces? Romantic, but …” He waved a hand vaguely, like he was stirring fog. “Demographic trends. Economic cycles. Technological progress. All much more powerful predictors than any one person."
But as an objet d’art, Terra was hard to beat. Humanity had done its level best to kick the shit out of the slowly spinning egg. Overpopulation, exploitation, atmospheric and oceanic imbalance, and then three military-level meteor strikes, any one of which would have fucked up the dinosaurs. And here it still was, like a soldier. Scarred, broken, reimagined, rebuilt, and remade.
Time was supposed to heal all wounds. To Drummer, that was just a nice way of saying that if she waited long enough, none of the things that seemed important to her would turn out to matter. Or at least not the way she’d thought they did.
It was an excellent question. Policy was a ratchet. If she pulled the trigger, gave the order that the next unauthorized ship through was going to be turned into scrap metal and regrets, it wasn’t something she could pull back from.
Someone much better at this than she was had taught her to be very careful doing something if she wasn’t ready to do it every time from then on. But, Christ, it was tempting.
“There are always people who are wary of change. And that’s a good thing. Change should be watched, moderated, and questioned. But that conservative view shouldn’t rein in progress or put a damper on hope."
She’d grown up in a universe where people like her were disposable, and she’d lived long enough for fortune’s wheel to lift her up higher than Earth’s sky.
Time healed all wounds, but it didn’t erase the scars so much as decorate them.
Age showed up in unexpected ways. Things that had always worked before failed. It was something you prepared for as much as you could.
It seemed to her that the real sign you were getting old was when you stopped needing to prove you weren’t getting old.
She climbed the short ladder up through the hatch into the cockpit, trying to enjoy the ache in her shoulders the way she’d once enjoyed the burn after an intense workout. As an old drill sergeant had told her, pain is the warrior’s friend. Pain reminds you that you aren’t dead yet.
“You really think they’ll be dumb enough to make a play?” Bobbie asked.
“I don’t want to bet my life on other people being smart,” Holden said.
“Voice of experience?”
“I’ve been hurt before.”
That seemed to be the human pattern — reach out to the unknown and then make it into the sort of thing you left in the first place. In Holden’s experience, humanity’s drive out into the universe was maybe one part hunger for adventure and exploration to two parts just wanting to get the hell away from each other.
“You should come back soon, then,” she said. “And stop hooking up with all the girls on Medina.”
“I would never be unfaithful to you.”
“Damned right you wouldn’t,” Drummer said, but there was laughter in her voice too now. Drummer knew that she wasn’t an easy woman to love. Or even to work with. There weren’t many people in the vast span of the universe that could navigate her moods, but Saba was one of them. Was the best at it of anyone.
Even for a woman born to the void, it was overwhelming. And everyone seemed to want her to control it for them. To take responsibility for it all so that they could feel like someone, somewhere was in charge.
“Really? Because I’ve got a half dozen other arguments I’ve been working on for why it’s not a terrible idea.”
“Oh yeah, hold on to those,” Holden said. “I’m going to flip my opinion back and forth for weeks.
“That you were letting the universe down by not taking on every fight there was? Because I worked on that one for a while. I’ve got some good lines practiced up.”
Time and age, sorrow and laughter had taken some of the curve out of her cheek, left her skin a little looser at her neck. They weren’t young anymore. Maybe you could only really see that someone was beautiful when they’d grown into themselves.
There was a certain luxury to the thrust gravity of steady acceleration. Hooking your nethers to a vacuum toilet was one of the indignities space travel occasionally forced you into. On the float, with nothing to pull your waste away, it was that or have pee globes sharing your living space. Being able to just sit on a toilet in the crew head and relax for a moment while you did your business was something to appreciate.
Plan it through before you go in, because once the bullets start flying, the time for thinking is over. All you can do is move and react.
Holden was Holden. He’d need to take the weight for every bad thing that happened, and to overstate his appreciation for the good ones. It’s what made him him. He projected selfless heroism on everyone because that’s what he wanted to see in people. It was the same thing that caused most of the problems in his life — most people weren’t who he wanted them to be.
This I understand.
“No one is ever ready,” the admiral said. “But you don’t know that until after it’s happened.”
“Yeah, but my favorite thing about Holden was knowing he’d take a bullet for any one of the crew. Pretty sure you actually have taken a few for us, so that ain’t changing,” Amos said, then paused for a moment.
“Don’t let things sit for too long. It’s always tempting to just ignore the things that aren’t actually on fire just at the moment, but then you’re also committing to spend your time putting out fires.”
It wasn’t even that she was worried about the outcome of this particular encounter. It was that there was a better approach, she’d told them what it was, and they weren’t going to do it. And her ship — her people — were going to shoulder some part of the unnecessary risk. There was no scenario ever that was going to make that okay with her.
"I mean, I’m all for forgiveness and bygones being bygones, but it’s easier to stomach that after the assholes are all dead.”
She opened a channel to the rail-gun emplacements before she was consciously aware she’d done it, the certainty growing in her even as she got the lock that it wouldn’t be enough. That nothing would be. But there was a way you did these things. An order to battle, even when the battle was doomed.
“It’s … magnetic?” Naomi said, her tone managing to be authoritative and astounded at the same time. This is what it is, but I don’t believe what I’m seeing.
“Is that possible?” the duty officer said, her voice small and tight.
“Only if you define ‘possible’ as things that have already happened,” Naomi said,
“Yes, sir,” she said. “Are you taking command?”
“No, I’m not. But this is the right thing to do, and we need to do it now. So we should do it. Please.”
Her expression fell a degree. She’d hoped someone in authority had arrived. Someone who knew what to do. He recognized the hope and the disappointment both.
Watching it all happen from his position in the ops center, Holden found that he had to admire the level of training and discipline the Laconians displayed. They left no doubt that they were absolutely in charge, and they responded to any aggression with immediate lethal force. But they didn’t abuse the civilians. They didn’t push anyone around. They showed nothing that looked like bravado or bullying. Even the violence didn’t have any anger behind it. They were like animal handlers.
"Loyal citizens of the empire will know only peace and prosperity, and the absolute certainty of their own safety under our watchful eye. Disloyalty has one outcome: death.”
“Ah,” Naomi said, though it was more a long exhalation than a word. “The nicest totalitarian government ever, I’m sure.”
“By the time we figure out all the ways it isn’t,” Holden said, “it will be too late to do anything about it.”
“Will be?” Naomi asked. “Or is?”
“You’re about to fuck up,” Avasarala said, and her voice was harder than stone. “I can keep that from happening. And we can have that conversation here in front of these poor fucking shitheads, or you can roll your eyes and humor the crazy old bitch with a cup of tea and we can have a little privacy. You can blame me for it. I won’t mind. I’m too old and tired for shame.”
“It was a dick move,” Avasarala said, pouring a cup of tea for herself and then another one for Drummer. “It’s my fault. I overreact when I’m scared.”
“How am I about to fuck up?”
“By trying to get back your losses,” Avasarala said. “It’s not just you either. You’re going to have advisors on all sides who want the same damn thing. Mass a force to reclaim Medina, find a way to coordinate, take the fight back to Laconia. Through a massive effort and at tremendous cost, push our way back to the status quo ante.”
“You don’t think we can get the slow zone back?”
“How the fuck would I know? But I do know you can’t get it back as your first step. And I know how much you want to. It feels like if you’re just smart enough, fast enough, strong enough now, it won’t have happened the way it already did. But that’s not how it’s going to work. And I know how consuming that grief can be. Grief makes people crazy. It did me.”
“I’m telling you he came back because he thinks he can win,” Avasarala said. “And if he thinks that, you should prepare yourself for the idea that it’s true.”
“There’s no point, then,” Drummer said. “We should just roll over? Put our necks under his boot and hope he doesn’t step on us too hard?”
“Of course not. But don’t talk yourself into underestimating him because you want him to be the next Marco Inaros. Duarte won’t hand you a win by being a dumbfuck. He won’t spread himself too thin. He won’t overreach. He won’t make up half a dozen plans and then spin a bottle to pick one. He’s a chess player. And if you act on instinct, do the thing your feelings demand, he’ll beat us all.”
“I’ve seen this before. This is us getting paved over. All we can do now is try to find some cracks to grow through.”
“Cracks?” Alex said, then sat back down with a thump. “How long I known you? Half the time I still got no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.”
In the distance, the Belters were pulling things out of their coats and bags. Bobbie felt the surge of adrenaline in her blood the same moment as the calm descended on her: danger followed immediately by the well-cultivated response to danger. It felt like being home.
"Bringing Laconian focus and discipline to Medina Station and the other systems isn’t a matter of imposing our customs and rules on them.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that.”
“Our discipline is ours, sir. The same actions can have different meanings in different contexts. What would be routine back home would seem draconian here. Anything harsher than routine will read as a wild overreaction. I believe the high consul would agree that underreacting to this would be a more persuasive show of authority.”
“I’m really wishing Titan were still on that list of options.”
“That’s waiting for yesterday, sweetheart.”
I love this response. Going to co-opt it.
Naomi murmured, shifted her pillow, and fell back into it without ever quite breaching up to consciousness.
Naomi shifted again, pulling the pillow over her head. She sighed. Her eyes stayed closed, but she was with him again. Awake, but not ready to admit it.
“Been brooding the whole time?” she asked.
“Some of it, yeah.”
“Did it help?”
The deep human instinct to come together in crisis. To take care of each other. In its best light, it was what made humanity human.
Bobbie had never really thought about how much communication changed when every time you spoke, you had to be close enough that the other person could stab you if they wanted to. Never before, anyway.
History was a cycle. Everything that had happened before, all the way back through the generations, would happen again. Sometimes the wheel turned quickly, sometimes it was slow.
“I’m thinking this through while I’m saying it, so just …”
“Got it,” Holden said. “Whatever it is, take a swing at it. We’ll work it out.”
“I’ve heard that story,” Bobbie replied. “Wish I’d been here to back you guys up in that fight.”
Clarissa shrugged. “The story’s more fun than the actual experience was. You didn’t miss much.”
“I’m as surprised as you are,” Avasarala said. “Though I feel like I shouldn’t be. I actually read history. It’s like reading prophecy, you know.”
Singh assumed there was a faith element to the risk that he was just missing. In his opinion, faith was generally for people who were bad at math.
Panic and alarm were exhausting. He was exhausted by them, and Medina was exhausted too. It was already shifting into its new routine.
But the fear was eroding her bit by bit and taking away all the things that let her recover. Like a recycling pond with a plugged drain, she was filling with shit, and sooner or later, she’d overspill. It wasn’t a source of anxiety. It was just something she knew about herself, as if she were thinking about some different woman.
She should have been kinder, wiser, more cunning. She should have been something other than what she was. There had to have been a moment when she could have chosen something different, when all of this could have been stopped. She couldn’t think when it had been.
His expression was almost rueful. That would be a pose, of course. A decision he’d made about how to appear. She hated that, even knowing that, she felt herself hoping he could be reasoned with. Wanting to like him, because then maybe he’d like her. Stockholm syndrome’s first, pale roots. She pushed the gentle impulse away and summoned up her hatred.
It was the nature of bad news to spread, and once it was out, it was out forever.
There were two ways to hide something. Either put it where no one could see it or leave it in plain sight with a thousand others just like it. If the alarm went off in the secure room, that would mean one thing. If a bunch of alarms went off all through the engineering and dock levels, and it was only one, maybe the guards had panicked. It would just be more noise in the chaos. Unremarkable.
Situations like this one, they could see death coming, and it didn’t matter. Death still came.
..., and she waited for the joy to fade before she risked thinking about it again. It was always dangerous when the universe fell down in a pattern where the thing you wanted and the wise path were the same.
There was no way for her to ask. That was the trick of living under the thumb of a dictator. It broke every conversation, even the private ones.
Holden had always been the one who soaked up the fame and celebrity, because for the most part he didn’t notice it. He just kept on being himself, and got vaguely surprised when anyone recognized him.
Some things slipped when you were hiding from authoritarian police squads and trying to topple a conquering army. Linens appeared to be one of those things.
“Alex, I live here,” Naomi said. “I can’t tell you how many times he’s put me here. How many times he’s seen the right thing to do and rushed off to do it without thinking about the price. Without letting me or you or the Roci scare him into being less than his conscience demands. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it. It’s natural to him. Who he is. It’s the only thing about him I’m really angry about.”
“He’s exhausting,” she said. “But we love him.” She sighed. “We do.”
"It’s not I don’t trust, it’s that I don’t trust blind. People are people. Fucked up like we all are, it amazes me when we can even make a sandwich.”
“A man of infinite cynicism,” Naomi said.
If he was going to find something that he could exploit, he had to believe there was good in him, even if he only maintained the illusion for a little while.
"Your empire’s hands look a lot cleaner when you get to dictate where history begins and what parts of it don’t count.”
If there was one thing Laconia’s history taught, it was the power of the right person at the right moment.
The one thing he’d said that stuck with her was, I am a human being. Anything that happens to human beings could happen to me.
Hello, tenant of Buddhism and Stoicism both.
And a though of any thinking person.
"It’d be a better world if there was always at least one right answer instead of a basket of fucked.”
“Don’t worry. These Laconians are just like Earthers. They only think of ships and stations as inside. Comes from growing up in free air.”
“‘The predictable limits of a conceptual framework,’” Bobbie said. A phrase from her classroom on Olympus Mons.
Her heart was pounding. Her muscles ached. She’d just killed two of the enemy. There would always be a little something — that tug on her humanity that came from doing violence. There was a satisfaction too. It didn’t mean she was a good woman or a bad one. It meant she was a Marine.
The green dots shifted, swirling in the display as the ships did in the darkness. A few dove toward the Tempest, moving almost at the same speed as the torpedoes. As gentle as it looked on the display, it was a killing burn. A suicide run for the crews of every ship that did it. More followed suit until dozens of ships were driving down toward the enemy. It was a tactic of unspeakable bravery and desperation.
Drummer didn’t notice that her hands were in fists until the ache caught her attention. She made her fingers open, looked at the little flaps of skin she’d carved off with her nails. The suicide attack reached its peak. It reminded her of pictures she’d seen of cloudbursts over the deserts of Earth. Huge, angry clouds.
“What about evac?” She knew what he meant. If he could blow the reactor, should he? Was the mission more important than living through it?
“You okay?” Naomi asked. Clarissa lifted her hand in the same Schrödinger’s answer she always had, no matter how she expressed it. Always yes, and always no. Yes, I’m fine in that I am not presently in medical collapse. No, having that be what fine meant didn’t ratify her early life choices.
“Thank you. It’s not … what I was expecting.”
“Yeah,” Clarissa said. “It seems like there’s always the way we wanted things to go, and there’s what actually happens.”
“Listen,” Naomi said. “They’re playing our song.”
“Oh my,” Clarissa said, laughing. “We have lived our lives wrong, haven’t we?”
The worst part was that she’d done it to herself. The damage to her body, the wear and the weariness, were all products of conscious, determined choices made by a girl she hadn’t been in decades. She carried the weight of those decisions like a sack of bones. Like a toolbox full of them. Some sins carried their own punishment. Sometimes redemption meant carrying the past with you forever. She’d gotten used to that over the years, but it was still pretty fucking inconvenient.
I teared up at this line.
Yes, so many yeses.
She tried to think what to say that would clarify that, but it was a lot of effort. And what did it matter really if anyone else understood? She knew. Fuck it, she thought. Some things you take to your grave.
The pilot flinched back, shot a look at Davenport. He stared hard at her, like he was looking at his death. Like he was trying to talk himself into being brave and hadn’t quite managed it yet. There was a chance there in the space between who he was and who he was trying to be.
“It’s the reward of old age,” Avasarala said. “You live long enough, and you can watch everything you worked for become irrelevant.”
Freehold was pain. Some days that was a good thing. It gave her something to push against, something to fight. Other days it was just wearying.
"The founding impulse of Freehold is sticking it to the government.”
“Loses some of its shine after you get elected.”
Everything changed, and it went right on changing. A terrible thought when things were good, a comforting one now.
This book was recommended on m.b. by Daniel Goldsmith, which is why it ended up on my book list (more so than the Hugo Award nomination, which may say something about my awareness of something or other). It dropped into my reading list quickly (given said nomination, the speed surprised me), so I read it quickly.
The book has this quirk of starting with one character, investing in said character's development, then switching to another character for the duration of the book. The initial character was entertaining, making the relegation to secondary status a bit disappointing.
A main point in the book, however, about how consciousness, the thing that none of us really understand, shapes reality, is far from disappointing. The introduction and exploration of the concept makes this book worth reading, with the science fiction and adventuring parts the icing on the cake. More succinctly, there's a reason for that nomination.
There would be no shortage of volunteers. It was the mysterious power of this driving will to know.
Knowledge is our wealth, our honor, our sacrament, Sara thought. It drives us to give up family, home, and place in time for its sake. Would we also sacrifice our lives, like ancient martyrs longing to see the face of God? Is knowledge that sacred to us?
Could she betray him? She had always considered herself cheerfully amoral, culturally relative to the bone. Conscience needed to adapt; morality was contextual. Yet she had never had a temptation that really mattered.
“Sara, you can’t go around arbitrarily disobeying rules. Some of them are for your own good.”
“I didn’t realize the planet had adopted universal surveillance.”
“It’s the price we pay for a free society."
Outsiders derisively called them Wasters, and they called the rest of the human race Plants. For a Waster, time seemed like a mere convention—an arbitrary way of sorting events into a sequence, no more.
Over and over, they outlived all they knew. Their homes were torn down between visits, their siblings became their elders, they would meet and strike up friendships with the descendants of people they had known. At every stop, they plunged into new trends, new attitudes, new inventions. They saw governments change, companies rise and fail. Each time they leaped off into the void it was an exercise in faith—faith that the equipment would still be operating to receive them at the other end, that people would still remember, that people would be there at all.
This was part of the science fiction part, people space travel by dismantling into component parts and being beamed along a radiation stream to their destination. Said beam travels the speed of light, which makes a fifty light year trip take, well, fifty years.
They wanted to rest in one place for a while. But even that was hard. What did a Waster have to say to people who had never seen by the light of another star, who had existed in a single sequential time frame? To Plants, their own time, their own place, was of universal importance. Sara sometimes thought that planetary gravity warped the imagination, bent perspective till the horizon was uncomfortably close, and everyone had a uniform myopia.
For others, time passed. For a Waster, it was always just now.
Everyone knew that Balavatis were rebels who loved to undermine all hierarchy, and Ashok fit the description: he was fascinated with authority and all its susceptibilities. What people didn’t know was that, to undermine hierarchy in truly creative ways, you have to understand it extremely well. The exercise of power was something Ashok absolutely rejected for himself, but analyzing it in others filled him with evil glee. His dilemma, of course, was that to study authority, he had to leave it strictly alone.
“What kind of word is ‘methodal’?” David asked.
“A buzzword,” Ashok answered, this time himself.
“Methodal. Sounds like a drug.”
“That’s what buzzwords are. Tranquilizers.”
“Thought suppressants, you mean.”
I need to record this now, while it is still fresh in my mind. Eyewitness accounts are unreliable, because the senses are unreliable, but memory plays havoc even with the shards of truth that come through to us untouched.
“You want to meditate on the unknowable. Well, science denies there is anything that can’t be known. Only religion revels in mystery, in order to reserve a place for God.”
“It is unscientific, wouldn’t you say, to deny that there are things we don’t know?”
“It doesn’t matter. Here we are on a new planet—none of us has any past here. We can all start over from scratch.”
If only that were true, Sara thought. We packed our past in our baggage. We always do.
The woman rarely spoke about the ship, or events of the day, or other people, the types of things that filled Sara’s life. Instead, the audio diary was internally focused. Dreams, musings, memories, and speculations filled Thora’s journal. She was torturously self-aware, always critiquing herself, analyzing her own motives. The slightest event led to endless echoes of self-examination: why did I act so? why did I think of acting another way? did I want some other outcome, or am I content? if I had acted otherwise, what would that have reflected about me? was there some better way I could have acted? what do I mean by “better?”—and on and on, to a paralysis of introspection. It was a miracle that the woman could stir from bed, Sara thought.
It was entirely foreign to Sara’s own method of living. Her mind had never struck her as a terribly promising research topic. It was an uncomplicated affair, motivated mainly by the twin desires to escape boredom and not to get caught doing the things that prevented boredom. She preferred to barrel forward through her day, collecting new experiences, regardless of their impact on her character. Living as Thora did, in a world of her own thoughts, would have been like prison.
I have to acknowledge that I may not escape. This is not despair speaking; it is anger. To die this way seems so random, so trivial. I have been robbed of meaning before being robbed of life. To die in darkness, alone—for what purpose was I ever alive? It is as if I emerged from darkness into delusion, then sank back into darkness forever.
Exoethnologists were after cultural resources—new knowledge and new ideas, the ultimate source of all profit. They took advantage of the fact that, in both biology and culture, isolation created diversity. In a closed information system, divergence took place, and the more different the system became, the more valuable it was. But when the isolation was broken, cultures were like thermodynamic systems—uniformity quickly resulted. There was always a short window of opportunity to document and save the precious information before it was hopelessly contaminated by adaptation. Biologists’ window of opportunity was longer. Culture could change with blinding rapidity.
“We’re all inadequate,” David answered. “Just think: the light from the outside world is mapped onto the retina, then further mapped onto the visual cortex, then broken apart and analyzed in other areas of the brain. At every step there’s a loss of information. In the end, what we are aware of is not the outside world per se, but the image of the world projected onto our brains. Plato was anatomically right; we do see shadows on a wall.”
“The Three wish to treat with the stranger.” My interview with the authorities, I assumed.
“Who are the Three?” I asked Hanna.
“The old ladies—Songta, Rinka, and Anath.”
“Are they in charge?”
“Only when we let them be. I will go with thee.”
She had a stormy side to her personality, and a low tolerance for failure.
My estimation of Songta went up, to think that she was the one who had been beminding him all these years. He would not be the man he was without her. It was one of those mysterious marriages where the partners co-create one another.
Okay, this is another case of a "dropped" book. Doron commented to me, "I'm reading this book now," to which I responded, "Oh, you are? Let me check it out from the library and read it, too," and here we are.
Except I read it faster than he did, finishing when he was a couple chapters in, and, well, okay, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this, but it was an exciting read.
So, there's this guy, Pablo Escobar. You might have heard of him. I, for my part, was incredibly oblivious to much of the world around the time of Escobar's rise, domination, and fall, so while I was vaguely aware of his existence, I wasn't aware of his story.
Well, now I am.
This is the story of Pablo Escobar, as told by his older brother, Roberto. It is a fascinating story somewhat tarnished by Roberto's bit of whining "we didn't do anything illegal!" in various parts of the book. Okay, sure, doing the accounting for a cocaine cartel wasn't illegal, the whole operation wasn't exactly moral or legal. Neither was cooking the books to make the drug money appear to be real estate deals. So, while the history is fascinating, the near pleading "I didn't do anything wrong" was difficult to read non-judgmentally.
If you like non-fiction, and want an interesting recent-history read, this book is a good choice. If you're a fan of this genre, this is also a good choice. If you're more like me, and read it because you wanted to talk with a friend about the book he was reading, this is also a good book to read. I would not have chosen this book for myself, but still enjoyed the reading of it.
The point he emphasized so many times was that the growing legend of Pablo Escobar was used by other groups to service their own needs, from the traffickers of Cali who were ignored while the focus remained on Pablo Escobar, to the various factions within the government who used the shadows that covered the search for him to settle old feuds and destroy growing opposition, and even by those men who once had worked for him and after being arrested provided information that would reduce their own sentences. It was easy for everyone to blame all the violence, all the killings, on Pablo Escobar.
Our country has always been ruled by a class of wealthy families that did very little to help the poor. There were very few social programs that assisted people in making their lives better. We have a system of laws in Colombia, but we lived by a different set of rules. From the time we were growing up the government was run by corrupt people who made themselves richer while claiming they were starting programs to help the less fortunate live a better life.
Legends are built in many ways, but part of such legends consists of accusations made by enemies, and often for their own benefit.
The business of contraband means simply bringing goods into the country without paying the required government fees, the duties and taxes, which allows you to sell the goods to people for much less money than they would have to pay in the stores. It’s very profitable. While contraband certainly is illegal, because it benefits people and hurts only the government, it has long been an accepted part of the Colombian economy.
Once cocaine had been widely and freely used in America. A small amount was part of the original Coca-Cola and some cigarettes; it could be bought in drugstores. The first laws were passed against it in America in 1914, when people were told it made black people in the South crazy and caused them to attack white women.
Almost from the very first day Pablo knew he had to pay big bribes, just like in the contraband business. Pablo was generous with these payments, he wanted to make it so rewarding for people that they would never betray him.
We also knew that the kidnappers were calling our mother’s home from public phones. So Pablo gave out hundreds of radio transmitters to our friends and workers and instructed them to listen to a well-known radio station. Every time the kidnappers called my mother’s home the announcer on the station said, “This song is dedicated to Luz Marina [a code name that was used]; it’s called ‘Sonaron Cuatro Balazos’ and is sung by Antonio Aguilar,” those people were to check nearby pay phones to see if they were being used.
When the rivers rose during the winter there were many floods and Pablo and Jaime would go around our country replacing everything washed away by the waters, bringing mattresses, cooking utensils, furniture, and the things people needed for living. And then they would bring engineers to find ways to prevent more flooding. Pablo would supply the materials to the villagers so they could help reconstruct the affected areas.
Under the law of my country, our president must give several cabinet posts to members of the opposition parties.
I find this idea appealing.
There was a new method of assassination that was becoming common in Colombia. It was to become known as parrillero: A man with a machine gun riding on the back of a motorcycle sprayed his victim—usually in a cart—with bullets. The safety helmets gave the assassins a good disguise and the bike provided the best way of escape after the shooting. Eventually this method became so common in Colombia that the government passed a law against people on motorcycles wearing helmets, so they could be identified.
It was one of these colonels who informed Pablo that Noriega had said that he was going to speak with the North American government, especially to the DEA.
To watch your family suffering and not be able to stop that is the most terrible feeling. And I was a fugitive without committing any crimes: I was pursued by Belisario Betancur’s government just for being Pablo’s brother.
An example of an "ehhhhhhhh, I don't quite believe you there" moment.
The secret police death squads would go in black cars into the poor neighborhoods, the barrios, at night. Most regular people would stay off the streets after work, so the police decided anyone on the corner was a bad guy, and that they worked for Pablo. Their secret squads with machine guns would drive around shooting young people for just standing on the corner, or they would take them away and later people would find their bodies. This was every night.
The impossible thing to know about the police was whether they were working honestly or in the kidnap business. Or worse, if they were people just pretending to be police. There was no way of knowing.
I don't know how the people of the U.S. would react to something like this.
I suspect some people in the U.S. already experience this.
In your mind part of you is always the person you used to be. For me, that was the bicycle champion. If I had paused to think about the journey I’d taken it would have been impossible; from representing the country I loved in the sport I loved to running through the jungle as police helicopters fired tracer bullets down on me. So I didn’t think about it. I know that it seems difficult to understand, but it is true. Maybe that was my means of dealing with my reality.
"I saw this person who had been so powerful, so rich, who had always been surrounded by people, so all alone. I had tears.”
I'm a big Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka fan. I found the books on the recommendation of Jim Butcher on some tweet years and years ago, and have been enjoying the Verus series, reading each one pretty much as soon as it is published. I appreciate that Jacka delivers his books very regularly, which means I'm not waiting for a series to continue as the world is with Harry Dresden and the Song of Ice and Fire and the Kingkiller Chronicle (which I am now convinced Rothfuss doesn't know HOW to finish, so he won't) and whatever else books have the author off on a different tangent because that's what interests them at this time and oh, wow, do I appreciate Jacka.
I enjoyed this book. I have enjoyed this series. Two chapters into this book and I realized that reading it felt like coming home in a way, the comfort level of the world that has been developed, my connection with said world and the characters in the world, and the writing style of the author. The Dresden Files does this, too. As did Connolly's Twenty Palaces series.
And I just realized I seem to have a thing for white male author, urban fantasy fiction.
Good thing I'm on a non-fiction kick this year. Go me.
The book was a fun read. If you haven't started on the Verus, start with book one, which is Fated (the naming of which reminds me to add it to my "I have read, but I don't recall when or any of the plot, but I know I've read it" list). Once you're done with those, head over to the Dresden series. And keep reading.
There’s a rhythm to battle, a cadence, almost like a dance. Every move has its counter, every strike its timing. Once you understand it, it doesn’t feel as though you’re attacking at all: you just do what’s natural.
Some of the younger men in his profession, the ones who have something to prove, will ignore warnings like that. The ones who survive to Little’s age don’t.
“However, justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done."
“None of the tests were able to find anything,” I said. “But not finding anything doesn’t mean there’s nothing there."
"It’s a matter of personality, not what you feel you need, and you simply don’t have enough of a desire to dominate and control.”
Yeah. I understand this.
“Everyone has aggressive impulses,” Dr. Shirland said. “They’re a fundamental part of the human condition. If you meet someone who seems not to have any, they’re channelling them somewhere else or keeping them suppressed. Usually, in the latter case, it ends up turning inward and manifesting as depression."
"She’s been a little too isolated lately and I don’t think leaving her alone with the contents of her own head for company is a good thing.”
I know a few people that this could be applied to, too.
I’ve never lived a safe life and I’ve always accepted that, but it’s one thing to know that there’s a good chance you’re going to die a violent death, and it’s something else to know that it might be someone else doing the dying in your place.
"Sure, they’ll offer you protection — as long as you do as you’re told. But as soon as you stop, they’ll make a point of targeting you, just to send the message of what happens to other people who don’t get in line. It’s not getting into those sort of groups that’s the problem, it’s getting out.”
You build an army because you’re planning to fight someone.
... and the less we knew and trusted each other, the more “harder” shaded into “impossible.”
... one of the more useful concepts I’d picked up was the Eisenhower Matrix, a method of ordering tasks by importance and urgency. The idea is that you file every task into one of four quadrants: important and urgent; not important but urgent; important but not urgent; and neither important nor urgent. Depending on which of those four a task is in, you do it, delegate it, schedule it, or ignore it.
Rulers don’t like turning on their own if they can avoid it. It gives the common folk ideas.
"... If there’s one thing the Council can agree on, it’s that their power and privileges shouldn’t go to anyone else.”
“Resentment is an unproductive emotion,” Morden said.
I judged him to have potential. Unfortunately power can be a discouragement to growth, and he’s had difficulty adapting.
There was another pause. There’s a lot of waiting in battles: when one wrong move can get you maimed or killed, people are understandably reluctant to make hasty decisions.
It hadn’t been my fight... but then, that’s how people like Pyre always keep getting away with it, isn’t it? The ones who can stop them won’t, and the ones who want to stop them can’t.
“He’s a psycho, but he’s a rational psycho,” Kyle said. “If you can give him a good reason not to attack you, he won’t.
“The number one rule when you’re dealing with Dark mages is that you have to negotiate from a position of strength,” I said. “The worst thing you can do is make them think you’re weak. If I don’t have the authority to settle terms, then in their eyes, that automatically makes me weak. And by implication, that makes you weak.”
“Don’t people always think that every long-lived institution is immortal right up until the point where it falls apart?”
Dragons can tell you your future, after a fashion. But I’ve never known whether they tell you what’s going to happen, or whether hearing it from them is what causes it to happen.
Vari’s answer was that everyone has a reason. And when I thought about it, he was right. It’s not like anyone just wakes up one morning and thinks, ‘Hey, you know what, I feel like being a bad guy today.’ Everyone’s got some way to justify what they do. They’ll say that the other guy’s an asshole, or they don’t have any choice, or it’s not like it matters, or it’s just the way the world works, whatever. The point is, knowing why someone’s after you doesn’t really help.
I couldn’t change what I’d done. But I could learn from my mistakes.
I had this book in my hold queue for a long time before I released it and it dropped into my read queue. I'm fairly certain it was on a Book Riot young adult book, but it has zombies in it, so, yeah, I read it.
This was a very fun read. The premise is that a zombie epidemic starts sometime during the Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days in our timeline, a different amount in the America of Dread Nation. The Civil War ended as the living now united against the dead. Except the attitudes and idiocy of the times didn't change, the slave owners still believed the slaves weren't people, still believed they were somehow entitled to subjugate another person, still believed in their own collective superiority. In this world, the ex-slaves and Native Americans were forced into combat schools, where they were trained to kill the dead.
Of course. Because once you have entitlement, you can't not have that entitlement until said entitle-ees are dead (typically of old age, tbh).
This was a fun read. Ireland portrays the prejudices well, gives us a heroine we can root for (root for, verb, informal, support or hope for the success of (a person or group entering a contest or undertaking a challenge): the whole of this club is rooting for him), and creates action and mystery at the same time. The letters to and from the heroine and her mother are heartbreaking in a way, but further the plot in a good way.
If you're into zombie fiction, this is a good book to pick up. If you're not into zombie fiction, you might still enjoy the heroine's sass, the book is worth reading.
“What happened then?” I asked, because there’s nothing better than the memories of others when you’re little and have no stories of your own.
I’ve heard enough political speeches to know that letting rich white city folk think that we’ve made even a small part of America safe again is a better stump speech than telling them that we’re still in trouble five years after the Army stopped fighting the dead.
Momma used to tell me, “Deny it until they’ve got you dead to rights, sugar. If they can’t prove it, it never happened.” It’s good advice, and it’s served me well.
But that’s the way life goes most of the time: the thing you least count on comes along and ruins everything else you got planned.
The boy had always been a bully, and the thing about bullies is they never learn how to run like the rest of us do.
In my head the ideas are so clear and make perfect sense, but when the words come out they’re a mess.
I shrug. “Sometimes you have to live down to people’s expectations, Kate. If you can do that, you’ll get much further in life.
That last bit is a lie, but the easiest lie to tell is the one people want to believe.
But when you think of shamblers as things, as mindless creatures who have to be put down so that we might live, ending them gets to be a lot easier. The farmer doesn’t cry over slaughtering a hog.
“Jane, your point is well taken, but heroism means little when it rests on lawlessness."
Yeah, what? No.
Miss Preston was convinced that the best way to correct minor misconduct was a little drudgery, and housework was the pinnacle of drudge.
This amused me.
Still, the thought of them together is enough to make me more than a little stabby. Jealousy is a terrible thing, and I swallow the emotion down hard as I can.
That’s the way it is when you fancy someone. Your heart starts doing the thinking, and your brain? Well, it gets left out of the equation until too late.
There was a big scary world beyond the boundaries of Rose Hill. I was bold, but not so foolhardy as to think there was something worthwhile on the other side of the barrier fence that kept the dead out.
And if folks could overlook the rumors of a white woman birthing a Negro, well, they could forgive just about anything, couldn’t they?
In Rachel’s mind, every ill that befell her was the work of someone else.
One of the other aunties, Auntie Eliza, once told me it was because Rachel was the major’s favorite before he went to war, and she liked the easy life he gave her. Rachel had adjusted to being owned, to being property, and she didn’t like the new situation, where she wasn’t nothing but a house servant with wages, a servant that had to work just as hard as everyone else.
“Surviving can make people right mean,” Auntie Aggie told me.
It’s a question I’ve refused to ask myself. I don’t want to think about what it would do to my world if Momma is dead.
I get an uncomfortable feeling like I’m sliding backward down a slope into a deep hole that I dug my own self.
"... That’s how men like the mayor maintained control. You believe strongly enough in an idea, nothing else much matters.”
I reckon we all have our childhood scars, whether we wear them on the outside or not.
“Look at you, with those pretty manners. Wherever did they find you?”
“At the junction of hard luck and bad times,” I answer. It’s something that my momma says.
But that means backing down from Cora, and I’ve seen her kind. She’ll do everything the people in charge tell her to, even if that means she ends up broken and bloody. She’s one of those people that never learned to breathe, never understood the true meaning of freedom. She’s a dog, happy even with a cruel master. She eats her three squares and takes her bit of pocket change and happily wears the collar around her throat, because that’s enough for her. But it ain’t for me.
"... I ain’t never going down there again if I can help it. But if you want answers, that’s where they are.”
A bark of laughter escapes from her. “Here you are flayed within an inch of your life and you’re asking after me.”
I sigh. “Sometimes it’s easier to think about other folks’ small hurts than your big ones.”
“You shouldn’t jump to conclusions about people, Mr. Gideon. I contain multitudes.”
I laughed at this one, well, because.
But I can’t change the past; I can only push headlong into an uncertain future. “Kate,”
Momma used to say there were lots of ways to survive. Don’t be afraid to pretend to be something you aren’t, Jane. Sometimes a little subterfuge and chicanery is in order and the quickest way to achieve one’s goal. It ain’t hard to imagine Ida pretending to be just another dumb colored girl in order to make it out here. Survival by any means necessary.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few years. Including that a group of panicked people ain’t that different from a herd of sheep. Nip at their heels a little and they’ll go wherever you tell them to.
Here’s a thing about me: I regret most of my actions five minutes after the fact. I’m rash in my decisions and I spend half my time trying to extricate myself from situations of my own making.
Alan’s jaw tightens and he looks straight ahead. “It was mostly the colored folks that fought the shamblers. No surprise there. Government pays to send them to those fancy schools while real men like me are left to fend for ourselves.”
So, in this story, Alan is a white guy. He believe that forced slavery of black people into killing zombies, which included forcing them into a re-education system which enabled them to be effective at killing zombies, was "fancy schools."
The unfortunate thing about this particular quote and thinking is that it is just_so_true. It's like Louis complaining he has to pay taxes, but he drives on the roads those taxes paid for. His kids go to the schools those taxes paid for. His devices use the GPS information that those taxes paid for. But, no, he complains and complains and complains and says everyone else has it better.
“It matters not, my dear. It is God’s wrath for our sins.” The sheriff lights his cigarette and looks out at the horizon. “The dead never walked until brother fought brother. Until we penitent folk betrayed one another.”
I wouldn't be surprised if this happened, too, in a zombie outbreak. It's about power and control in a fear-laden world.
I didn’t like the big girl, I ain’t never been a fan of snitches, but turning shambler is not a fate I’d wish on anyone, not even the girl who got me whipped.
Well, except for the guy she was planning on killing. Not the point.
“See, the problem in this world ain’t sinners, or even the dead. It is men who will step on anyone who stands in the way of their pursuit of power."
This is the next book in the Caltech book club. I, admittedly, skipped over the biological sciences when I was at Caltech, and that skipping is one of my regrets about my time at Caltech: I came in with these just plain wrong notions about science. Those ideas adversely affected my education, but, fortunately, not my love for science in all its (correctly science) forms.
I read this book, finishing before the first week's discussion, mostly because I keep checking these books out from the library, with due dates much sooner than the slower 1-2 chapters a week pace the book club has. Which is fine, I read the book club books quickly. That I subsequently don't participate in the book club discussions is less fine, I guess.
This book was a meandering survey of various studies, current research, and microbe history. I say meandering because the book lacked a compelling narrative arc. I was expecting maybe a history arc, or a current research arc, or even the author's journey arc. Instead, the end of each chapter lead into the beginning of the next chapter, with each chapter a swirl of interesting information and sometimes a self-contained narrative. Mostly though, each chapter was a fascinating, meandering discussion of a new topic about microbes.
And by fascinating, I mean fascinating. My incoming supposition was, given how much influence chemicals have over our mental state and body composition, the idea that microbes could and do produce chemicals to induce a state in their host doesn't seem so farfetched. After reading the book, learning about how much we know about microbes, and seeing how much we don't know about microbes, my supposition is more like a fixed assumption in my world. One of those "but, of course" obvious things only after the fact.
I enjoyed reading the book. This book is very much worth reading.
Now we’ve seen that they can sway the brain too – the organ that, more than any other, makes us who we are. It is a disquieting thought. We put such a premium on our free will that the prospect of losing independence to unseen forces informs many of our deepest societal fears.
Wolbachia can only pass to the next generation of hosts in eggs; sperm are too small to contain it. Females are its ticket to the future; males are an evolutionary dead end. So it has evolved many ways of screwing over male hosts to expand its pool of female ones. It kills them, as in Hurst’s butterflies. It feminises them, as in Rigaud’s woodlice. It eliminates the need for them entirely by allowing females to reproduce asexually, as in Stouthamer’s wasps. None of these manipulations is unique to Wolbachia, but it is the only bacterium to use them all.
Huh. So, gay woodlice.
Here is a strange but critical sentiment to introduce in a book about the benefits of living with microbes: there is no such thing as a “good microbe” or a “bad microbe”. These terms belong in children’s stories. They are ill- suited for describing the messy, fractious, contextual relationships of the natural world.
A cut or a bruise can split some of your cells apart and spill fragments of mitochondria into your blood – fragments that still keep some of their ancient bacterial character. When your immune system spots them, it mistakenly assumes that an infection is under way and mounts a strong defence. If the injury is severe, and enough mitochondria are released, the resulting body-wide inflammation can build into a lethal condition called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). SIRS can be worse than the original injury.
Some of these molecules get saddled with negative names, like “virulence factors”, because they were first discovered in the context of disease, but they are inherently neutral. They are just tools, like computers, pens, and knives: they can be used to do wonderful things and terrible things.
Couples might work well together, but if one partner can get the same benefits without spending as much energy or effort, it will do so unless punished or policed.
Well, this one hit home pretty hard.
These principles are easy to forget. We like our black-and-white narratives, with clear heroes and villains.
We do. Some of us more than others.
A well-functioning partnership could easily be seen as a case of reciprocal exploitation. “Both partners may benefit but there’s this inherent tension. Symbiosis is conflict – conflict that can never be totally resolved.”
To allow our first microbes to colonise our newborn bodies, a special class of immune cells suppresses the rest of the body’s defensive ensemble, which is why babies are vulnerable to infections for their first six months of life. It’s not because their immune system is immature, as is commonly believed: it’s because it is deliberately stifled to give microbes a free-for-all window during which they can establish themselves. But without the immune system’s full selective powers, how can a mammalian baby ensure that it gets the right communities?
I find this fascinating.
As humans make our presence felt, we disturb the ancient relationships between corals and their microbes, converting the vivid splendour of fish-filled reefs into bleak algal barrens submerged in a pathogenic soup.
And I find this depressing.
... a Grand Unified Theory of Coral Death. It shows how the largest sharks are connected to the smallest viruses.
The most obvious difference lay in the ratio of the two major groups of gut bacteria: obese people had more Firmicutes and fewer Bacteroidetes than their leaner counterparts.
An important lesson emerged: microbes matter but so do we, their hosts. Our guts, like all ecosystems, aren’t defined just by the species within them but also by the nutrients that flow through them.
Herbert “Skip” Virgin published a case study that beautifully supports this idea. He worked with mice that had a genetic mutation common in people with Crohn’s disease. Those rodents developed inflamed guts, but only if they were infected by a virus that knocked out part of their immune system, and were exposed to an inflammatory toxin, and had a normal set of gut bacteria. If any of these triggers was missing, the mice stayed healthy.
Dogs carry microbes from the outdoors to the indoors, offering us a bigger library of species with which to populate our developing microbiomes. When Lynch fed these dog-associated dust microbes to mice, she found that the rodents became less sensitive to various allergens.
Nonetheless, Burkitt was on the right track. “America is a constipated nation,” he said, indelicately. “If you pass small stools, you have big hospitals.”
Scientists will talk about Occam’s razor – the principle that favours simple, elegant explanations over convoluted ones. I think the truth is that scientists, like everyone else, find simple explanations psychologically soothing.
Still, they provide more questions than answers. Did the microbes set symptoms in motion or just make a bad situation worse? Was one species responsible, or a group of them? Is it the presence of certain microbes that matters, or the absence of others, or both?
But if you looked at these communities in isolation you might conclude that their owners were on the verge of chronic disease, when they were merely on the verge of motherhood.
Ecosystems are complex, varied, ever-changing and context-dependent – qualities that are the enemies of easy categorisation.
Hello, systems thinking!
So, mammalian success was founded on vegetarianism, and that vegetarianism was founded on microbes. Time and again, different groups of mammals swallowed plant-breaking microbes from their environments, and used their enzymes to mount assaults on leaves, shoots, stems, and twigs.
The macrotermites there build enormous mounds. Some can tower for up to 9 metres, scraping the skies with Gothic ensembles of spires and buttresses. The oldest one on record – now abandoned – is 2,200 years old.
I want to see one of these mounds now.
Bacteria offer an alternative. They are masters of biochemistry, and can degrade everything from heavy metals to crude oil.
Beetle outbreaks come and go but the current one, fuelled by a warming climate, is ten times bigger than any other. Since 1999, the beetles and their attendant fungi have killed more than half the mature pines in British Columbia and affect 3.8 million acres in the United States. They have even hopped over the cold Canadian Rockies, which long fenced them into the west coast, and are now spreading east. A continuous belt of lush vulnerable forests lies in front of them.
You can see this on any drive in any West Coast state.
Hornets, hawks, and humans might gradually accumulate beneficial mutations, but that individual hornet, or this specific hawk, or those particular humans can’t pick up beneficial genes for themselves. Except sometimes, they can. They could swap their symbionts, instantly acquiring a new package of microbial genes. They can bring new bacteria into contact with those in their bodies, so that foreign genes migrate into their microbiome, imbuing their native microbes with new abilities.
The genes they left behind, these ghosts of symbionts past, aren’t sitting idly among the mealybug’s DNA. Some make amino acids.
Whatever the case, it is clear that an insect, a bacterium, and a virus have formed an evolutionary alliance against a parasitic wasp that threatens them all.
Which is really, really cool.
This point is worth repeating: taking any fast or instant evolutionary shifts as a refutation of the slow, gradual changes we associate with Darwin’s vision is a fatal mistake because these quick shifts are still powered by gradualism.
That is the power of symbiosis: it allows gradual mutations in microbes to produce instant mutations in hosts. We can let bacteria do the slow work for us, and then quickly change ourselves by associating with them. And if these alliances are beneficial enough, they can spread with blinding speed.
When the parasite arrived, it spread like wildfire, riding through the forests in the bodies of its sterilised hosts. The flies needed a countermeasure and Spiroplasma rose to the occasion. It restored its hosts’ ability to reproduce, and allowed them to outcompete their sterile peers. Since the flies could pass these little saviours to their offspring, the proportion of infected insects grew with each generation. And Jaenike had caught this spread at exactly the right moment. “It made me doubt my sanity,” he says. “What are the chances?”
Say goodbye to dated and dangerous war metaphors, in which we are soldiers hell-bent on eradicating germs at whatever cost. Say hello to a gentler and more nuanced gardening metaphor. Yes, we still have to pull out the weeds, but we also seed and feed the species that bind the soil, freshen the air, and please the eye. This concept can be hard to grasp, and not just because the idea of beneficial microbes is new to many.
To control a microbiome is to sculpt an entire world – which is as hard as it sounds. Remember that communities have a natural resilience: if you hit them, they bounce back. They are also unpredictable; if you tweak them, the consequences ripple outwards in capricious ways. Add a supposedly beneficial microbe, and it might displace competitors that we also rely on. Lose a supposedly harmful microbe, and an even worse opportunist might rise to take its place.
These emerging infectious diseases of wildlife are emerging ever more quickly, and humans are at least partly to blame. On planes, boats, and boots, we carry pathogens around the world with unprecedented speed, overwhelming new hosts before they can acclimatise and adapt.
Yet despite the excessive hype, the concept behind probiotics is still sound. Given all the important roles that bacteria play in our bodies, it should be possible to improve our health by swallowing or applying the right microbes. It’s just that the strains in current use may not be the right ones. They make up just a tiny fraction of the microbes that live with us, and their abilities represent a thin slice of what the microbiome is fully capable of. We met more suitable microbes in earlier chapters. There’s the mucus-loving bacterium, Akkermansia muciniphila, whose presence correlates with a lower risk of obesity and malnutrition. There’s Bacteroides fragilis, which stokes the anti-inflammatory side of the immune system. There’s Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, another anti-inflammatory bug, which is conspicuously rare in the guts of people with IBD, and whose arrival can reverse the symptoms of that disease in mice.
We have already seen that what we eat can substantially change the microbes in our gut, and prebiotics like inulin are in plentiful supply in onions, garlic, artichokes, chicory, bananas and other foods.
Jim Collins is more circumspect. Given how much we still don’t understand about the microbiome, he is unsettled by the prospect of engineering microbes that can permanently establish themselves in our bodies. That’s why he is also focusing on building kill-switches that will force the microbes to self-destruct if something goes wrong, or if they leave their hosts.
Or that so many scientists would study it that they would organise a bi-annual, Wolbachia-devoted conference to share their results?
Of course they would! Humans love their communities, we are social creatures.
I contain multitudes, yes, but only some of them; the rest, I extend into the world like a living aura.
We all have our cloud of microbes! I love this!
Within 24 hours of moving into a new place we overwrite it with our own microbes, turning it into a reflection of ourselves.
We also change the microbes of our housemates. Gilbert’s team found that room-mates share more microbes than people who live apart, and couples are even more microbially similar.
In both settings, sterility is a curse not a goal, and a diverse ecosystem is better than an impoverished one.
In the developing world, around 5 to 10 per cent of people who check into hospitals and other healthcare institutions pick up some kind of infection during their stay, falling ill in the very places that are meant to make them healthier. In the United States alone, this means around 1.7 million infections and 90,000 deaths a year.
By removing harmless bacteria that would otherwise impede the growth of pathogens, perhaps we have inadvertently constructed a more dangerous ecosystem.
Gibbons showed this by studying public toilets. He found that thoroughly scrubbed toilets are first colonised by faecal microbes, which are launched into the air by roiling, flushed water. Those species are eventually outcompeted by a diverse range of skin microbes, but once the toilet gets scrubbed again, the communities go back to square one. So, here’s the irony: toilets that are cleaned too often are more likely to be covered in faecal bacteria.
Jessica Green, an Oregon-based engineer-turned-ecologist, found a similar pattern among the microbes that float inside air-conditioned hospital rooms.7 “I assumed that the microbial community of the indoor air would be a subset of that of outdoor air,” she says. “It really surprised me that we saw little to no overlap between the two.” Outdoors, the air was full of harmless microbes from plants and soils. Indoors, it contained a disproportionate number of potential pathogens, which are normally rare or absent in the outside world, but had been launched from the mouths and skins of hospital residents. The patients were effectively stewing in their own microbial juices. And the best way of fixing that was remarkably simple: open a window.
And I see, in the driver’s seat, a guy who notices those rivers of microscopic life and is enthralled rather than repelled by them. He knows that microbes are mostly not to be feared or destroyed, but to be cherished, admired, and studied.
We see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are. We see how they sculpt our organs, protect us from poisons and disease, break down our food, uphold our health, calibrate our immune system, guide our behaviour, and bombard our genomes with their genes.
A bacterium in your gut might be able to transfer its genes into one of your intestinal cells, but once that cell dies, the bacterial DNA goes with it. The gene might become part of a human genome, but never the human genome.
In 2013, Dunning-Hotopp showed that these short-lived unions are surprisingly common (Riley et al., 2013). She analysed hundreds of human genomes that had been sequenced from body cells – the ones from kidneys or skin or livers, none of which get passed on to offspring. She found traces of bacterial DNA in around a third of them. They were especially common in cancer cells; an intriguing result with unclear implications. It might be that tumours are especially prone to genetic intrusions, or that bacterial genes help to transform healthy cells into cancerous ones.
Written by the same author as The Lady and the Monk, this book was the subject of a "weekend reading" post. Given its author, I chose to download the book from the library (my being fortunate that it was available), and read it.
Iyer writes about "going Nowhere," about just being, and about stillness. The book has a companion TED-something video.
After The Lady and the Monk, I'm a fan of Iyer's style of writing, his voice in the writing, so I willingly read the book. I'm glad I did. The timing of it into my life was perfect - just as I needed to settle, to be still, this book and Iyer's words were with me.
I strongly recommend this book.
“What else would I be doing?” he asked. “Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.”
One could start just by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves one rise to the surface.
One could even, as Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and one is reminded, at a level deeper than all words, how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.
For all the daily excitement, however, something inside me felt that I was racing around so much that I never had a chance to see where I was going, or to check whether I was truly happy.
Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.
As America’s wisest psychologist, William James, reminded us, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Movement makes richest sense when set within a frame of stillness.
Heaven is the place where you think of nowhere else.
No one I’d met could better explain, for example, how getting caught up in the world and expecting to find happiness there made about as much sense as reaching into a fire and hoping not to get burned.
Clouds and blue sky, of course, are how Buddhists explain the nature of our mind: there may be clouds passing across it, but that doesn’t mean a blue sky isn’t always there behind the obscurations. All you need is the patience to sit still until the blue shows up again.
This is what your mind — your life — looks like when you’re going nowhere. Always full of new colors, sights, and beauties; always, more or less, unaltered.
Whenever I travel to North Korea or Yemen—to any of the world’s closed or impoverished places—I see how almost anyone born to them would long to be anywhere else, and to visit other countries with the freedom that some of the rest of us enjoy.
Nowhere can be scary, even if it’s a destination you’ve chosen; there’s nowhere to hide there.
A life of stillness can sometimes lead not to art but to doubt or dereliction; anyone who longs to see the light is signing on for many long nights alone in the dark.
One of the laws of sitting still, in fact, is that “if you enter it with the set purpose of seeking contemplation, or, worse still, happiness, you will find neither. For neither can be found unless it is first in some sense renounced.”
You don’t get over the shadows inside you simply by walking away from them.
The one thing technology doesn’t provide us with is a sense of how to make the best use of technology. Put another way, the ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is now far less important than the ability to sift through it.
The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; it’s the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape.
Stillness has nothing to do with settledness or stasis.
“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life,” Thomas Merton, one of its sovereign explorers, pointed out, “is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life solves them for you.”
In progress notes:
Cheri on MB started reading this book on 7/7
Cohen ended up sitting still with his elderly friend for more than forty years.
Was Cohen friends with his friend for more than forty years, or did Cohen sit with his friend for more than forty years. I can't tell, and both could be possible depending on how old the two men are and how long they have been sitting, cumulatively, over the years.
As mentioned, I am a fan of The School of Life, their mission, and their products. This book continues that fandom in a strong way. And with this book, I'm well on my way to reading a significantly large number of essays this year.
This is a short book, 96 whole pages divided into six sections: Self-Ignorance, Philosophical Meditation, Emotional Identity, Honesty and Denial, Self-Judgement, Emotional Scepticism. The section that delighted me the most is the Philosophical Mediation section, as it explains the (classical) Stoic process of dealing with the stresses and worries of life by asking (and processing) the questions "What am I anxious about?", "What am I upset about?", and "What am I excited about?".
The last three sections were also particular relevant to me, but, well, your mileage may vary with this book. If you're in a reflective mood, this book is amazing and possibly a life-changer. That life-changing assumes the reader processes the book, and doesn't just read it, shrug, and toss it aside.
Normally, I'd list all the quotes of the book I found meaningful. Here, however, I realize that the parts I find relevant are revealing in a way I find too vulnerable. So instead, here's one note from the Faulty Walnut:
The walnut is extremely bad at understanding why it is having certain thoughts and ideas.
It doesn’t typically notice the role that levels of sleep, sugar, hormones and other physiological factors play upon the formation of ideas. The walnut adheres to an intellectual interpretation of plans and positions that are, at base, frequently merely physiological. Therefore, it can feel certain that the right answer is to divorce or leave the job rather than go back to bed or eat something to raise blood sugar levels.
If you're in a place where you're ready to reflect internally and grow, this book is amazing, let me buy you a copy.
This book was one of two books about writing recommended to me by a group of web developers and web content people.
I am glad I read it.
Clark has lots of advice, and I had to stop highlighting the book because practically the entire book became a highlight for me.
I strongly recommend this book for anyone who writes, not only short form, but also long form. Many of the recommendations are common sense and common writing advice, but the entirety of the recommendations all in one place make this book so great. Half way through reading the book, I went out and bought a hard copy (hooboy, Clark, you were buried, I had to hunt for the last copy in the bookstore!).
So, yeah, if you write, fiction, non-fiction, copy, content, blogs, tweets, any sort of writing, I strongly recommend this book to you.
Consider these historical and cultural documents: The Hippocratic oath The Twenty-Third Psalm The Lord’s Prayer Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 The Preamble to the Constitution The Gettysburg Address The last paragraph of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech
The baseball card, the limerick, the lyric, the ransom note, the fortune in the fortune cookie—each stands as a work with a sharp rhetorical purpose and a clearly imagined audience.
1. Keep a daybook devoted to short writing.
2. Include examples of great short writing collected from other sources.
3. Write short pieces of your own inspired by the ones you’ve collected.
4. Over time, examine your short writing for seeds of longer pieces.
5. Practice writing plain sentences that contain a grace note, one interesting word that stands out, such as Saramago’s chimera.
6. You will run into great short writing in the most surprising places, from restaurant menus to rest room walls. Record these in your daybook or snap a photo with your cell phone.
2. Study short writing wherever it finds you.
It was from these brief texts in small print on the backs of pieces of cardboard [baseball cards] that I learned not just the background of the players but the rules of the game, its history and traditions, and, best of all, its language and slang: A “blue dart” was a line drive. A “can of corn” was an easy pop fly. “Chin music” was a pitch up and in.
1. Imagine that an anti–Valentine’s Day movement swept America. You would still give out little heart candies, but the messages would now reflect disgust, disappointment, disillusion. Write ten that are better than “Eat your heart out.”
4. Write a brief premise for a movie in which something discovered in a pack of baseball cards proves crucial.
5. Write a summary of a fictional story in which a message in a bottle proves to be pivotal.
3. Read for focus.
Deadline writing requires the sharpest focus, and Von Drehle would prepare himself to battle the clock with a set of focusing questions: Why does the story matter? What’s the point? Why is the story being told? What does the story say about life, the world, the times we live in?
2. Whatever you write, ask yourself the key questions: What’s my point? In a sentence, what am I trying to say? What is the work really about?
3. Test your short writing experiments with these additional questions:
Have I taken a detour?
Have I squeezed in extra stuff?
Have I shifted tenses or language styles?
4. Examine earlier entries in your daybook with these questions: What is this bit really about? Can I answer that question in ten words? Five? Three?
4. Practice reading at a glance.
The at-a-glance experience is so valuable that writers and editors must take care not to undermine its effect. In other words, don’t break up a small text into smaller texts. Make sure it is published—in total—on a single page or screen. Online, add links as you must, but don’t clutter the text with so many opportunities to escape that the straight one-two-three meaning is lost.
Consider the lessons we can draw from such an analysis of song lyrics. What practices and language moves can we apply to our own writing? Use simple words to build dramatic ideas. Depend on characters, conflict, scenes, setting, and narrators, no matter how short the story form. In music and writing, use repetition to hold narrative and thematic elements together, as in a chain, and make them memorable. Use a short text to remind readers of other short texts, enriching the experience of narrative. Remember that literal language benefits from its coexistence with figurative words, from metaphors to literary allusions to sound imagery to symbolism and more.
Tap the power of two.
What is the difference, for example, between a report and a story? The purpose of the report, I argued, was to deliver information so that readers could act on it. A story, on the other hand, was a form of vicarious experience. A report might point you there, but a story puts you there.
Report Story Who Character What Scene (what happened) When Chronology (time in motion) Where Setting Why Motive How Process
12. Change your pace.
As a rule of thumb, the more periods there are in a passage, the slower the reader will move, since each period is a stop sign.
And wow was this a problem I had when reading Several Short Sentences, too many breaks and too many periods.
17. Vary hard and soft words.
1. Use the Anglo-Saxon word stock to create a staccato effect or to end a phrase with a snap or punch.
2. Make a random list of English synonyms in which one word in a pair is short and the other long. To get you started: lit/ illuminated; jail/ incarcerate; piss/ urinate.
3. Look through your recent writing to see if you can substitute a long word for a short one, or vice versa. Which feels better to you?
4. Read the passages aloud to check for pace, rhythm, flow, style, and meaning.
18. Join the six-word discipline.
It’s not clear whether Ernest “Old Papa Fuzzy-Face” Hemingway invented this bit of microfiction or merely plucked it out of a newspaper’s classified ads section. Why were the shoes never worn? Most readers assume that the baby died. But what if he was born without feet? Or with feet so big that regular baby shoes would not fit her?
Give yourself five minutes to write five six-word phrases using each of the moves described above. Ready, steady, go!
19. Cut it short.
A good short writer must be a disciplined cutter, not just of clutter, but of language that would be useful if she had more space. How, what, and when to cut in the interest of brevity, focus, and precision must preoccupy the mind of every good short writer.
“Omit needless words” suggests that the writer should begin to cut a text at the word level. I am on the prowl for big things to take out. Omitting or cutting words is nickeling-and-diming a text. I want to cut big pieces if I can—twenty-dollar bills, not dimes and nickels. Remember Donald Murray’s aphorism: “Brevity comes from selection and not compression.” I begin, as I wrote in Writing Tools, by pruning the big limbs before I shake out the dead leaves.
In his book Style, for example, Joseph M. Williams offers his “Five Principles of Concision”: Delete words that mean little or nothing [kind of, really, actually]. Delete words that repeat the meaning of other words [various and sundry]. Delete words implied by other words [terrible tragedy]. Replace a phrase with a word [in the event that becomes if]. Change negatives to affirmatives [not include becomes omit].
20. Add by contraction.
Each of us seeks the level of language (including text slang, abbreviations, and contractions) that best serves our writing purposes, our authentic voices, and the most urgent needs of our audiences.
Gene Weingarten wondered what would have happened if Lincoln had decided to tweet the Gettysburg Address: “87 years ago, our dads made us free. Yay! Still want free, but hard! Fighting, dying, burying! Need more fight tho, so dead be happy.”
I laughed at this!
21. Excerpt—but in context.
The famous writing teacher Donald Murray quotes from the Roman poet Horace: “Nulla dies sine linea,” Latin for “Never a day without a line” (of writing).
Every writer I know has had an editor who, to save space, has cut a passage to the bone. When it’s done well, the meaning can ring clearer with fewer words. When it’s done poorly, something critical to the reader’s understanding is left behind.
22. Surprise with brevity.
This book began with the reflection that the right words in the right order might be worth a thousand pictures. When I hear the famous words of Lincoln, or a recitation of the Twenty-Third Psalm, or the final, climactic litany of Dr. King standing before the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial, I close my eyes and hear and then see images, word pictures that fill my heart and fire up my soul, language that sets my imagination soaring.
The good and responsible writer works from a sense of mission and purpose, no matter how short the text.
25. Sound wise.
Test your efforts against the criteria established by James Geary in The World in a Phrase. His five laws of the aphorism are: “It must be brief. It must be personal. It must be definitive. It must be philosophical. It must have a twist.”
His checklist of persuasive elements includes the following:
A clear product explanation
Technical language for credibility
Clarity and rhythm
Product service (what happens when it breaks?)
How to order now
The best profiles seem to follow a three-part structure:
The Pitch: Where the writer attempts to stand apart from the masses in a sentence or two at the top.
The Lure: Where the writer compiles evidence (anecdotes, preferences, humor) that he is worthy.
The Catch: Where the writer ends with an irresistible call to action.
[Dating website] offers the most thorough advice on how best to take advantage of the form. In summary:
Choose your user name carefully. (It’s the first thing people see.)
Your heading, or catchphrase, is critical. (An enticement to read further.)
The first few lines will make or break you. (I call it the ten-second rule.)
Keep things brief and simple. (No more than 250 words.)
Check spelling and grammar. (Don’t be judged for a lack of intelligence because you did not have the time or energy to check your work.)
Pay attention to the close. (Consider asking a question that invites a response.)
Although the advice in this chapter has focused on the dating profile, the strategies for writing a good one apply across other forms of writing. Reread one of your own essays and evaluate it against these questions: Is my title or headline compelling? Do I begin the text with something irresistibly interesting? Do I reward the reader throughout with incentives to keep reading? Does my ending make the reader glad he or she has arrived? Have I purged the text of distracting and misleading errors? And finally, would a reader of my work discover in my writing voice someone worth talking to over a beer or a cup of coffee? Everything you write is, in essence, a dating profile.
29. Reframe messages as dialogue.
1. Sit in a busy public space and eavesdrop on conversations. In your daybook, capture the most interesting snippets. Imagine a fictional scene in which that dialogue takes place.
30. Marry words with pictures.
In Aim for the Heart, my Poynter colleague Al Tompkins argues that in good television, “pictures and words should not match,” but they should, according to Jill Geisler, “hold hands.”
31. Summarize and define.
In an influential essay titled “Defining Deviancy Down,” former U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan explored ways in which behaviors once thought deviant (bearing a child out of wedlock) become tolerated, approaching normal. How you define deviancy matters greatly, argued Moynihan. If it is too easy to be marked as deviant, you probably live in an authoritarian country (consider the plight of women in places such as Saudi Arabia, where a woman’s driving a car or not wearing a head covering would be considered deviant).
“Malesuete (adj.) Accustomed to poor habits or customs. A nice, middle-of-the-road word for describing the common flaws that afflict us all. Malesuete does not refer to the catastrophic, hair-pulling, Greek tragedy kinds of flaws, such as being the kind of person who sacrifices his own children. It is more apt for describing things like clipping your toenails in public: the minor flaws that annoy everyone around you.”
33. Report and narrate.
More and more, news is broken not through official channels but through the collective experience of the crowd, as when a 5.9 earthquake surprised the state of Virginia and other locations on the East Coast.
1. After more than two centuries, the basic reporting questions remain the same: who, what, where, when, why, and how. In short forms, the savvy reporter will avoid cramming the Five W’s into a text, focusing instead on one or two.
2. Reports become stories through this conversion table: who = character; what = scene; where = setting; when = chronology; why = motive; and how = how it happened.
35. Protect against the misuses of short writing.
Attachment to a slogan can also become a substitute for healthy skepticism and critical thinking, a problem Jeffrey Scheuer attacks in his book The Sound Bite Society: “A sound bite society is one that is flooded with images and slogans, bits of information and abbreviated or symbolic messages—a culture of instant but shallow communication. It is not just a culture of gratification and consumption, but one of immediacy and superficiality, in which the very notion of ‘news’ erodes in a tide of formulaic mass entertainment. It is a society anesthetized to violence, one that is cynical but uncritical, and indifferent to, if not contemptuous of, the more complex human tasks of cooperation, conceptualization, and serious discourse.”
“So if you are an advocate of ‘less’ government,” writes Luntz, “better to use the language of making Washington accountable or making Washington more effective.”
Here are a few of the word choices promoted by the opinion guru:
When speaking of health care reform, never say privatization; say personalization.
Never say tax reform or tax cuts; instead say tax simplification or tax relief.
Never say capitalism or global economy; say free market economy.
Never say inheritance tax or estate tax; say death tax.
Never say drilling for oil; say exploring for energy.
The move is described in this Orwell critique: “The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”
He writes, “Propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with enlightened self-interest appeals to reason by means of logical arguments based upon the best available evidence fully and honestly set forth.” The triumph of reason over passion would create a utopia.
Instead, writes Huxley, “Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God.” (The italics are mine.)
There are many good things to sell in this world, from useful products to progressive ideas. Your soul isn’t one of them.
2. The word propaganda once had a neutral meaning: language or other messages in support of a candidate or cause. By the end of World War II, it took on negative connotations, with associations to Nazi hate speech and literature. As a result, we no longer have a word that stands for positive, rational propaganda. Perhaps advocacy comes close. Keep your eyes open for language—including slogans and other ways of summarizing—that encourages reason over emotions and passions.
I read a blog post recently where the author commented about being in an unmotivated state. He sounded depressed. My suggestion to him was exercise and help someone. Exercise has been shown to relieve depression. Helping another person, even in a small way, has helped relieve depression in everyone I know who struggled with non-severe and non-clinical depression.
My comment received a supportive reply (I really wish I had kept a link to the comment), and further comment that helping others as a way to combat depression was a thought she had read in Hope in the Dark. I put a hold on the book and read it when it dropped into my reading queue.
The book was written about finding hope to keep trying to change the world for the better, during the Bush Jr. administration. Solnit let us know through this book that while, yes, what the administration was doing was bad, citizens were pushing back. Many, many people said no, this is not acceptable, and pushed back on the bad policies and bad laws.
Any glimmer of hope of progress since that administration has certainly turned to despair in this administration, with its obvious greed, corruption, bigotry, racism, and misogyny.
Solnit comments on this many times in the book, about how despair is one part of the activism spectrum; that even during the darkest despair, there is still hope.
The book reminded me of early 2017, when Eric went to a rally protesting Cheetoh's not releasing his tax records. Oh, how innocent we all were then. Brother Chris was looped into a text conversation that Eric, who was doing his part in the protests calling for the returns, started. Chris' responses were just so damn negative and defeated. "Oh, why do that, it won't do any good." and "That's dumb, nothing will change." Rather than doing something (anything), he gave up without trying.
We dropped him from the conversation and kept chatting. That day, we learned that Chris gives up, doesn't believe in change, and doesn't believe that an individual can make a difference.
Solnit addresses that, too, in the book, that some people give up without trying.
This book might not be life-changing, but I strongly recommend it for everyone, especially anyone who is losing hope (or has already lost it) in these ugly times. If nothing else, these ugly times have created a generation that will be politically active.
It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction.
It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative.
Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.
Making an injury visible and public is often the first step in remedying it, and political change often follows culture, as what was long tolerated is seen to be intolerable, or what was overlooked becomes obvious.
“Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair,” the theologian Walter Brueggeman noted.
Amnesia leads to despair in many ways. The status quo would like you to believe it is immutable, inevitable, and invulnerable, and lack of memory of a dynamically changing world reinforces this view. In other words, when you don’t know how much things have changed, you don’t see that they are changing or that they can change.
In that essay, “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” Zinn continues,
The struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invisible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience—whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself.
Those who doubt that these moments matter should note how terrified the authorities and elites are when they erupt. That fear signifies their recognition that popular power is real enough to overturn regimes and rewrite the social contract.
Paul Goodman famously wrote, “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society that you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now!”
And yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or, ideally, both. These are the forces that prefer the giant remain asleep.
And this is why Chris didn't move.
How do people recognize that they have the power to be storytellers, not just listeners?
What strikes you when you come out of a deep depression or get close to a depressed person is the utter self-absorption of misery.
South America was neoliberalism’s great laboratory, and now it’s the site of the greatest revolts against that pernicious economic doctrine (which might be most tersely defined as the cult of unfettered international capitalism and privatization of goods and services behind what gets called globalization—and might more accurately be called corporate globalization and the commodification of absolutely everything).
The despair that keeps coming up is a loss of belief that the struggle is worthwhile.
In the name of the so-called War on Terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we were encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers (particularly Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim people or people who looked that way), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves.
This is the lasting damage from Bush Dos.
I think of Bush’s constant deployment of false hope—that we were going to win the war in Iraq, that his wars had made US citizens and the world safer, that the domestic economy was doing fine (and that the environment is not even a subject for discussion). Perhaps hope is the wrong word for these assertions, not that another world is possible, but that it is unnecessary, that everything is fine—now go back to sleep. Such speech aims to tranquilize and disempower the populace, to keep us isolated and at home, seduced into helplessness, just as more direct tyrannies seek to terrify citizens into isolation.
Another part of the Puritan legacy is the belief that no one should have joy or abundance until everyone does, a belief that’s austere at one end, in the deprivation it endorses, and fantastical in the other, since it awaits a universal utopia. Joy sneaks in anyway, abundance cascades forth uninvited.
Though oil politics had much to do with what had happened, we were not asked to give up driving or vehicles that gulp huge amounts of fuel; we were asked to go shopping and to spy on our neighbors. It seemed as though the Bush administration recognized this extraordinary possibility of the moment and did everything it could to suppress it, for nothing is more dangerous to them than that sense of citizenship, fearlessness, and communion with the world that is distinct from the blind patriotism driven by fear.
History is like weather, not like checkers. (And you, if you’re lucky and seize the day, are like that butterfly.) Like weather in its complexity, in its shifts, in the way something triggers its opposite, just as a heat wave sucks the fog off the ocean and makes my town gray and clammy after a few days of baking, weather in its moods, in its slowness, in its suddenness. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does. That’s why you can’t save anything. Saving is the wrong word, one invoked over and over again, for almost every cause.
Saving suggests a laying up where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt; it imagines an extraction from the dangerous, unstable, ever-changing process called life on earth. But life is never so tidy and final. Only death is. Environmentalists like to say that defeats are permanent, victories temporary.
If you’re lucky, you carry a torch into that dark of Virginia Woolf’s, and if you’re really lucky you’ll sometimes see to whom you’ve passed it, as I did on that day (and if you’re polite, you’ll remember who handed it to you).
Benjamin’s angel tells us history is what happens, but the Angel of Alternate History tells that our acts count, that we are making history all the time, because of what doesn’t happen as well as what does.
Only that angel can see the atrocities not unfolding, but we could learn to study effects more closely. Instead we don’t look, and a radical change too soon becomes status quo.
The Angel of History says, “Terrible,” but this angel says, “Could be worse.”
They’re both right, but the latter angel gives us grounds to act.
Perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible. Perfectionists can find fault with anything, and no one has higher standards in this regard than leftists.
Their grumpiness is often the grumpiness of perfectionists who hold that anything less than total victory is failure, a premise that makes it easy to give up at the start or to disparage the victories that are possible. This is Earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction.
The radical center, as writer and New Mexico land manager William DeBuys defines it, is “a departure from business as usual,” is, he continues, not bigoted. By that I mean that, to do this kind of work, you don’t question where somebody is from or what kind of hat he or she wears, you focus on where that person is willing to go and whether he or she is willing to work constructively on matters of mutual interest.
Nothing is ever so good that it can’t stand a little revision, and nothing is ever so impossible and broken down that a try at fixing it is out of the question.
Velasquez, the founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, says, “Number one, I don’t consider anybody opposition. I just consider anyone either misinformed or miseducated or downright wrong-thinking. That’s the way I look at people, and I believe that what we do, getting justice for migrant workers is the good and right thing in life to do and everyone ought to be on our side.”
To be antidoctrinal is to open yourself up to new and unexpected alliances, to new networks of power. It’s to reject the static utopia in favor of the improvisational journey.
We are trying to build a politics of process, where the only certainty is doing what feels right at the right time and in the right place—a politics that doesn’t wait (interesting how wait and hope are the same words in Spanish) but acts in the moment, not to create something in the future but to build in the present, it’s the politics of the here and now. When we are asked how are we going to build a new world, our answer is, “We don’t know, but let’s build it together.”
It’s an enormous challenge, because in a chaotic world people need something to hold onto and something to hold them, if all is uncertain, if uncertainty is the only certainty, then the uprooted, the fragile, those that crave something to give them meaning in their lives, simply get washed away by the flood and flux of an unsure universe.
For them, hope is often found in certainty. Not necessarily certainty rooted in a predictable future, but certainty that they are doing the right thing with their lives .
The philosopher Alphonso Lingus says, “We really have to free the notion of liberation and revolution from the idea of permanently setting up some other kind of society.”
Zapatista scholar John Holloway has a manifesto of a book out called Change the World Without Taking Power, a similar argument that the revolution is an end in itself that fails its spirit and its ideals when it becomes the next institutional power.
There is a vast area of do-it-yourself activity directed towards changing the world that does not have the state as its focus and that does not aim at gaining positions of power. It is an arena in which the old distinctions between reform and revolution no longer seem relevant, simply because the question of who controls the state is not the focus of attention.
The question is about negotiating a viable relationship between the local and the global, not signing up with one and shutting out the other.
The best way to resist a monolithic institution or corporation is not with a monolithic movement but with multiplicity itself.
The United States is the most disproportionate producer of climate change, governed by the most disregardful administration. This country often seems like a train heading for a wreck, with a gullible, apolitical, easily distracted population bloating itself on television’s political distortions and repellent vision of human life, with the runaway rates of consumption, the violent interventions around the world, the malignancy of domestic fundamentalism, the burgeoning prison and impoverished and unhinged populations, the decay of democracy, and on and on. It’s hard to see radical change in the United States, and easy to see how necessary it is. I spend a lot of time looking at my country in horror.
Profound change for the better does occur, even though it can be difficult to see because one of the most common effects of success is to be taken for granted. What looks perfectly ordinary after the fact would often have seemed like a miracle before it.
Few remember that there was no significant US homeless population before the 1980s, that Ronald Reagan’s new society and economy created these swollen ranks of street people.
They were only defeated when their resilience was stolen from them by clichés, by the invisibility of what they accomplished that extraordinary morning, and by the very word “terrorism,” which suggests that they, or we, were all terrified. The distortion, even obliteration, of what actually happened was a necessary precursor to launching the obscene response that culminated in a war on Iraq, a war we lost (even if some of us don’t know that yet), and the loss of civil liberties and democratic principles that went with it.
When the planes became missiles and the towers became torches and then shards and clouds of dust, many were afraid, but few if any panicked, other than the president, who was far away from danger.
Flights 11 and 175 struck the towers. Hundreds of thousands of people rescued each other and themselves, evacuating the buildings and the area, helped in the first minutes, then hours, by those around them.
Adam Mayblum, who walked down from the eighty-seventh floor of the north tower with some of his coworkers, wrote on the Internet immediately afterward:
“They failed in terrorizing us. We were calm. If you want to kill us, leave us alone because we will do it by ourselves. If you want to make us stronger, attack and we unite. This is the ultimate failure of terrorism against the United States.”
We failed, however, when we let our own government and media do what that small band from the other side of the earth could not.
Without stupid, helpless people to save, heroes become unnecessary. Or rather, without them, it turns out that we are all heroes.
Governments like the grim view for a similar reason: it justifies their existence as repressive, controlling, hostile forces, rather than collaborators with brave and powerful citizenries.
Americans are good at the mingled complacency and despair that says things cannot change, will not change, and we do not have power to change them.
Much has changed; much needs to change; being able to celebrate or at least recognize milestones and victories and keep working is what the times require of us. Instead, a lot of people seem to be looking for trouble, the trouble that reinforces their dismal worldview. Everything that’s not perfect is failed, disappointing, a betrayal. There’s idealism in there, but also unrealistic expectations, ones that cannot meet with anything but disappointment. Perfectionists often position themselves on the sidelines, from which they point out that nothing is good enough.
I’ve often seen, say, a landmark piece of climate legislation hailed as a victory and celebrated by people working hardest on the issue, but dismissed and disparaged by those who are doing little or nothing for the cause in question. They don’t actually know what work went into producing the legislation, what it will achieve, and what odds were overcome to get it.
They may fear that celebrating anything means undermining the dissatisfaction that drives us—if dissatisfaction drives us rather than parks us in the parking lot of the disconsolate.
Maybe an underlying problem is that despair isn’t even an ideological position but a habit and a reflex. I have found, during my adventures in squandering time on social media, that a lot of people respond to almost any achievement, positive development, or outright victory with “yes but.” Naysaying becomes a habit. Yes, this completely glorious thing had just happened, but the entity that achieved it had done something bad at another point in history. Yes, the anguish of this group was ended, but somewhere some other perhaps unrelated group was suffering hideously. It boiled down to: we can’t talk about good things until there are no more bad things. Which, given that the supply of bad things is inexhaustible, and more bad things are always arising, means that we can’t talk about good things at all. Ever.
I picked up this book when I was wandering inside the local bookstore. It was on the new releases table, and looked interesting, lots of positive hype, so I bought the book. I read it fairly quickly, so it's not a slow read. It was, however, a frustrating read.
How to explain without giving spoilers?
Okay, this part isn't a spoiler, since it is on the cover of the book, you know what you're getting into with the cover blurb, but let's take note of it. The protagonist has heard a splash in the water outside of her back-of-the-yacht cabin balcony which is close to the engines. She heard the sound after falling asleep shit-faced-drunk (6 known drinks on an empty stomach, more drinks implied), while still asleep and with the boat engines running. Please note that this is a book with "a churning plot worthy of Agatha Christie"? Did Christie have such a gaping plot hole?
Okay, waving off this issue, let's see the protagonist's response.
I saw two things.
The second was a realization, and one that made my stomach clench and shift. Whoever had been standing there -- whoever had thrown that body overboard -- could not have missed my stupid headlong dash to the balcony. In all likelihood they'd been standing on the next-door veranda as I dashed onto mine. They would have heard my door crash back. They would probably even have seen my face.
Consider that for a moment.
The first thing she saw was a physical item. To be parallel in structure, the second item is also a physical item. I am completely unsure what a realization physically looks like.
But the last part of the paragraph, the heroine is worried that the alleged perpetrator has seen her face.
She is on a boat that is out at sea. She has been assigned cabin 9. There are 20 people on the boat all of whom have been assigned cabins and everyone knows who is in what room. OF COURSE THEY KNOW WHO THE WOMAN IN CABIN 9 IS.
How did an editor let this through?
The book has many of these absurdities in it.
Take the home break-in that happens in the first few pages of the book. The heroine's response:
After he'd gone, I made myself a tea and paced the flat. I felt like Delilah after a tomcat broke in through the cat flap and pissed in the hallway -- she had prowled every room for hours, rubbing herself up against bits of furniture, peeing into corners, reclaiming her space.
I didn't go as far as peeing on the bed, but I felt the same sense of space invaded, a nee to reclaim what had been violated. Violated? said a sarcastic little voice in my head. Puh-lease, you drama queen.
But I did feel violated. My little flat felt ruined -- soiled and unsafe.
OF F---ING COURSE she'd feel violated, HER HOME WAS JUST ROBBED. That is one of the prime examples of violations, having a place of safety invaded.
How is Ware considered the next Christie if she doesn't understand this fundamental nature of human fear and stress? Being violated leads to feelings of having been violated, pretty basic that.
Ho-boy, and then there is this:
But even if I'd had full-blown psychosis, that didn't detract from the fact that, pills or no pills, I saw what I saw.
She heard what she heard, and imagined the rest.
Yeah, this book was a rough read for me. The details keep pulling me out, and I'm thinking, "Wait, what?"
Speaking of "What?" Too many of them in recent books I've read. Lo had a number of "What?" questions in the book. "What?" becomes annoying as a speech pattern very quickly.
If you're a fan of Ware's writing, you'll likely enjoy this book. This is the first book that I have read by Ware, so likely the last. I'm not a fan.
"What," I demanded, "you don't believe me? You don't think people can be sucked into doing something out of fear, on inability to see any other way out?"
I am unsure where or when I picked up this book. I've had it in my pile for a while now, and picked it up when the slower, non-fiction I've been reading was starting to disinterest me. The book was a slower read than I expected it to be, but I'm unsure where my expectations came from.
The book is about Charlie, a lawyer in Small Town, Georgia, and daughter of a defense lawyer, Rusty, who believes that all people deserve a defense, especially those found guilty in the court of public opinion and unlikely to receive a fair trial or vigorous defense otherwise - you know, the lawyer who is guaranteed to make enemies.
Said enemies take out their vengeance on Rusty's family, and there we have the set up for the main character's demeanor, struggle, conflict, strengths, and development.
This is the first Karin Slaughter book I've read. Mom's favorable opinion of Slaughter's writing influenced my reading the book. There were a number of places where I nodded in understanding of some of the characters' actions, so Slaughter's writing is believable and understandable, which is great.
I just don't know that I'm a better person for having read this book.
Stay with me.
Many of the fiction books I've read have a moral to them. If they lack a moral, then they might contain some incident that causes reflection, a pondering, something to consider that affects the reader's life. Take the Imperial Radch series, for example. Leckie writes about privilege and power and how they manifest corruption, all in the framework of a space opera. Heinlein books were all social commentary.
This book, however, I don't feel that. I don't know the lesson, the moral, the point of the book. Yes, "telling a good story" is a sufficient point to a book, but this one didn't leave me with "whoa, that was a good story," or similar thought.
Eh, I don't know. I'd rate this worth reading if you're a fan of Slaughter. Maybe a Slaughter fan can recommend another book written by her that might better showcase her writing?
She knew all the questions on Jeopardy. She knew when to use who or whom. She could not abide misinformation. She disdained organized religion. In social situations, she had the strange habit of spouting obscure facts.
I like Gamma already.
"Charlie needs to know that she can depend on you. You have to put that baton firmly in her hand every time, no matter where she is. You find her. Don’t expect her to find you.”
She asked, “Whose side are you on?”
“There’s no such thing as sides. There’s just doing the right thing.”
“I hate to blow apart your philosophy, Horatio, but if there’s a right thing then there’s a wrong thing, and as someone with a law degree, I can tell you that stealing the murder weapon from a double homicide, then lying about it to an FBI agent, can land you on the wrong side of a prison cell for a hell of a long time.”
Horrible things were a hell of a lot easier to digest when you took away the emotion.
“I’m not saying anything about how stupid it is to smoke after having two heart attacks and open-heart surgery.”
“That is called paralipsis, or, from the Greek, apophasis,” Rusty informed her. “A rhetorical device by which you add emphasis to a subject by professing to say little or nothing about it.” He was tapping his foot with glee. “Also, a rhetorical relative of irony, whom I believe you went to school with.”
“Charlotte, let me give you the answer.”
“No, darling. Listen to what I’m saying. Sometimes, even if you know the answer, you’ve got to let the other person take a shot. If they feel wrong all the time, they never get the chance to feel right.”
During the first year of their marriage, one of their biggest arguments had been over Ben’s habit of taking off his socks every night and dropping them on the floor of the bedroom. Charlie had started kicking them under the bed when he wasn’t looking, and one day Ben had realized that he didn’t have any socks left and Charlie had laughed and he had yelled at her and she had yelled back at him and because they were both twenty-five, they had ended up fucking each other on the floor.
I laughed at this. Why? the Underwear Saga, of course.
Charlie washed clothes. Ben folded.
Yep. Good separation of laundry.
Charlie’s shift from supportive spouse to raging harpy had not been gradual. Seemingly overnight, she was no longer capable of compromise. She was no longer able to let things go. Everything Ben did irritated her.
She had always been drawn to people who were delighted by the world, who looked out rather than in.
They had traveled extensively throughout their marriage, Anton taking jobs or Sam attending a conference with the sole purpose of being somewhere new. Dubai. Australia. Brazil. Singapore. Bora Bora.
A massive, reversible toll lane cut through the center of the interstate, catering to all the pickup-driving John Boys who drove down to Atlanta every day to make money, then drove back at night and railed against the godless liberals who lined their pockets and subsidized their utilities, their healthcare, their children’s lunches and their schools.
Sam thought about Melissa, the way she had cried every time she scored less than perfect on a test. That was probably the kind of person you wanted operating on your father.
Rusty remained unmoved. “Death snickers at us all, my dear. The eternal footman will not hold my coat forever.”
She pulled a Ziploc bag from her purse. Her tea sachets were inside. Charlie said, “We have tea here.”
“I like this kind.” Sam dipped the sachet into the water.
I understand this, too.
They might have been magnets, but they were of unequal power. Everything Sam knew, Gamma knew more.
“Do you think I should do it?” Charlie considered her answer before speaking.
“Would the Sam I grew up with do it? Maybe, though not out of any affinity for Rusty. She would be angry the same way I get angry when something isn’t fair."
Charlie lifted her chin. They could be in a western, or a John Hughes movie if John Hughes had ever written about aggrieved, almost middle-aged women.
The Wilsons took the lack of information with a type of resignation that seemed ingrained in their souls. They were clearly part of that forgotten swath of poor, rural people. They were accustomed to waiting for the system to play out, usually not in their favor.
She had so many things wrong with her body that she could not imagine why someone would purposefully damage themselves.
You could only ever see a thing when you were standing outside of it.
“A trial is nothing but a competition to tell the best story. Whoever sways the jury wins the trial."
“I’ve always preferred crazy to stupid. Stupid can break your heart.”
Rusty said, “A father’s job is to love each of his daughters in the way they need to be loved.”
“You’ve always said that everyone deserves a chance.”
“They do, but I don’t have to be the one who gives it to them.”
“What a rapist takes from a woman is her future. The person she is going to become, who she is supposed to be, is gone. In many ways, it’s worse than murder, because he has killed that potential person, eradicated that potential life, yet she still lives and breathes, and has to figure out another way to thrive.” He waved his hand in the air. “Or not, in some cases.”
“Charlotte has always been a pack animal. She doesn’t need to be the leader, but she needs to be in a group. Ben was her group.”
"He’s either involved somehow or he’s an idiot.”
“I told you stupid breaks your heart.”
Her druthers were always to apply logic to a problem, but as with the weather, life existed in a delicate dynamical balance between the fields of mass and motion. In essence, sometimes shit happened.
“I was so relieved when it happened. You don’t realize when you’re that young that you’re going to get older. That there’s going to come a time when you’re not relieved.”
She used the back of her hand to rub her eyes. “I saw Dad do this closing argument once. He talked about how people always obsess about lies. Damn lies. But no one really understands that the real danger is the truth.” She looked up at the white casket. “The truth can rot you from the inside. It doesn’t leave room for anything else.”
“Ben would be happier with someone else.”
“Utter bullshit,” Sam said, her tone clipped. “You have no right to decide on his behalf.”
Of course, she was still pedantic and annoying, but that came with being their mother’s child.
Okay, this is one of the shorter books on my "I have read" list that I don't count as a book, per se. I read it in a dead tree format. It contained words on the pages. The whole object had a cover, title page, copyright, and sections. It qualifies as a book in every legitimate definition of the word.
But it's too short for my book reading count.
This is a printing of David Foster Walace's commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. If I had heard it at my college graduation, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have understood it nearly as well as my current day self does. I'm pretty sure if my 21 year old self had understood his words as well as current day self does, my life would have been significantly different.
I'm also pretty sure my 60 year old self will want to smack my current self upside the head, for STILL not understanding these things.
It's a 20 minute read, available in many places online (and in video format, if that's your thing). Worth reading / watching / experiencing.
The point here is that I think this is one part of what the liberal arts mantra of “teaching me how to think” is really supposed to mean: to be just a little less arrogant, to have some “critical awareness” about myself and my certainties… because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
This book was recommended in a slack channel I'm in, along with How to Write Short. The two books together helped her write better copy for a site she was developing. Having recently read Draft No. 4 and How to Write Short, I read this one, too.
The book has two big sections. The first section has a series of short sentences giving writing advice. The second section contains examples of writing, along with a critique of the examples. I enjoyed reading the second section. The first section annoyed me.
A series of short sentences would be fine if each of the lines were actually a complete sentence. Instead, the book is formated with choppy lines that break apart longer sentences.
So, imagine reading a book.
Where each line has a fragment of a sentence.
And you are supposed to know.
That it is actually a single sentence.
One naturally pauses at a period.
Which is not how this book is meant to read.
The pause habit is not breakable.
In a single book.
Yeah, so the first section annoyed me. Despite this annoyance, the advice is good. I was amused at how much of the advice I ignore, especially when it comes to pronouns. I am so bad with my use of pronouns. In particular, I use too many of them.
Anyway, main themes of the book:
1. Use short sentences, you don't need long sentences.
2. Have meaning in each sentence.
3. Trust yourself. Give yourself authority. Write about what interests you.
4. Notice things.
5. Don't use cliches. Question any sentence that appears unconsidered or "naturally."
6. Learn grammar so that you don't annoy the reader with bad grammar that they might not know about but can sense.
7. Writing is hard work, flow is a myth, "naturally" is, too.
8. Don't use an outline. Sure, take notes, use notes, but don't use an outline.
9. Don't talk down to the reader. Trust the reader.
10. Compose and edit at the same time.
I strongly disagree with the "don't use an outline" advise. At the risk of violating the "don't assume what the author meant" advice elsewhere in the book, perhaps Klinkenborg meant don't be a slave to the outline. Organizing a pile of notes into a coherent work is pretty much creating an outline on the fly. Outlines aren't abdicating thinking about one's writing, it's actively thinking about one's writing and creating a giant note about the direction one wants to go. Nothing wrong with that creation.
I'm not sure I recommend the book, despite learning a lot from it. I did remove a lot of pronouns in this review.
The biggest lesson I learned, however, was, "Don't format a prose book in poetry style, it annoys the reader."
Everything in this book is meant to be tested all over again, by you. You decide what works for you. This is perhaps the most important thing I have to say.
Part of the struggle in learning to write is learning to ignore what isn’t useful to you and pay attention to what is.
Here, in short, is what I want to tell you.
Know what each sentence says,
What it doesn’t say,
And what it implies.
Of these, the hardest is knowing what each sentence actually says.
It’s hard to pay attention to what your words are actually saying. As opposed to what you mean to say or what you think they’re saying. Knowing what you’re trying to say is always important. But knowing what you’ve actually said is crucial.
Write these things down—the contents of the noise in your head as you write.
These assumptions and prohibitions and obligations are the imprint of your education and the culture you live in.
What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too.
The fact that you’ve included a word in the sentence you’re making Says nothing about its necessity.
Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you,
The prose of law, science, business, journalism, and most academic fields.
That means you don’t know how to use one of a writer’s most important tools:
The ability to suggest more than the words seem to allow,
The ability to speak to the reader in silence.
No two sentences are the same unless they’re exactly the same, word for word.
(And, in a lifetime of writing, it’s unlikely you’ll ever write the same sentence twice.)
I laughed at this one.
The purpose of a sentence is to say what it has to say but also to be itself.
No sentence can afford to be merely transitional.
If you’ve written clearly —
And you know what you’ve said and implied
As surely as you know what you haven’t said —
The reader will never get lost reading your prose
Or have trouble following you without transitions.
In journalism, the equivalent of the topic sentence is the notorious “nut graf,”
A paragraph that tells you the content of the article you’re about to read,
As if you couldn’t proceed without a précis.
I'm delighted to have learned about the nut graf in Draft No. 4.
If you love to read — as surely you must — you love being wherever you find yourself in the book you’re reading,
Happy to be in the presence of every sentence as it passes by,
Not biding your time until the meaning comes along.
They recall the moment, as children, when we came upon the phrase
“And then one day.”
You know exactly how those four words feel.
You know exactly what they do.
I love this. And then one day.
Were you asked to write in order to be heard, to be listened to?
We forget something fundamental as we read:
Every sentence could have been otherwise but isn’t.
We can’t see all the decisions that led to the final shape of the sentence.
But we can see the residue of those decisions.
Imagine the reason behind each sentence.
Why is it shaped just this way and not some other way?
Why that choice of words?
Why that phrasing?
Why that rhythm?
What you write—what you send out into the world to be read—
Is the residue of the choices and decisions you make.
Choices and decisions you are responsible for.
Start by learning to recognize what interests you.
Most people have been taught that what they notice doesn’t matter,
So they never learn how to notice,
Not even what interests them.
Or they assume that the world has been completely pre-noticed,
Already sifted and sorted and categorized
By everyone else, by people with real authority.
There’s always an urge among writers
To turn fleeting observations and momentary glimpses
Into metaphors and “material” as quickly as possible,
As if every perception ended in a trope,
As if the writer were a dynamo
Turning the world into words.
Don’t let the word “years” alarm you.
Think of it as months and months and months and months.
This is surprisingly hard to do at first
Because our reading habits are impatient and extractive.
And no matter how hard you look, you’re almost invisible to yourself,
Camouflaged by familiarity.
Try reading your work aloud.
The ear is much smarter than the eye,
If only because it’s also slower
And because the eye can’t see rhythm or hear unwanted repetition.
How well you read aloud reveals how well you understand the syntax of a sentence.
Do you remember, in school, going around the room,
Each student in turn reading a paragraph out loud?
Remember how well some students read and others, how badly?
It was a difference in comprehension,
Not of the sentence’s meaning,
But of its texture, pace, structure, actuality.
Don’t read straight through without stopping.
Read until your ear detects a problem.
How many sentences begin with the subject?
How many begin with an opening phrase before the subject?
Or with a word like “When” or “Since” or “While” or “Because”?
How many begin with “There” or “It”?
What kinds of nouns do you see?
Are you using “with” as a preposition or as a false conjunction, a false relative pronoun?
You don’t need to be an expert in grammar and syntax to write well.
But you do need to know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.
Between active and passive constructions.
The relation between a pronoun and its antecedent.
You need to look up even familiar words every time you have a doubt
And especially when you don’t have a doubt.
That is, very often. That is, every time you write.
You’ve already looked up every word you don’t know.
So why not give up the idea of “flow” and accept the basic truth about writing?
It’s hard work, and it’s been hard work for everyone all along.
The idea of writer’s block, in its ordinary sense,
Exists largely because of the notion that writing should flow.
It’s always worth asking yourself if you can imagine saying a sentence
And adjusting it until you can.
Just as it’s always useful to ask yourself, “What exactly am I trying to say?” The answer to that question is often the sentence you need to write down.
Concentration, attention, excitement, will be part of your working state.
Flow, inspiration—the spontaneous emission of sentences — will not.
That distinction is worth keeping in mind.
Learn to write anywhere, at any time, in any conditions,
With anything, starting from nowhere.
Composing a sentence always involves revision
Unless you write down the words of a sentence exactly as they pop into your head.
And why would you do that?
So, you’ll be revising each sentence as you compose it.
Composing each sentence as you revise it.
What writers fear most is running out of material.
You want to begin the piece, not introduce it, which is the difference between a first sentence already moving at speed and a first sentence that wants to generalize while clearing its throat.
Don’t get trapped by the thought of writing sequentially.
We’re always hastening to be done writing,
But we’re also hastening to get out of the presence of our thoughts.
Everything about thinking makes us nervous.
We don’t believe there’s much of value to be found there.
My thought was, "Who the f--- thinks this?"
The piece you’re writing is simply the one that happens to get written.
How do you decide what works?
What do you do when your sentences seem to waver in quality and value before your eyes?
You read what you’ve written, and it looks good.
You read it again, and it looks bad.
You read it a third time, and now you can’t tell.
You can almost never fix a sentence —
Or find the better sentence within it —
By using only the words it already contains.
If they were the right words already, the sentence probably wouldn’t need fixing.
Accept it: you’ll surely fail again and just as surely succeed.
There’s nothing linear or steady in your growth as a writer.
And yes, you may begin a sentence with “but.”
Use the simple past tense —
Avoiding the layering of several pasts —
And give the reader clear temporal clues when needed.
Our lives are full of endings.
The sun goes down every day.
We ask for the check.
Eventually it comes.
How broad a hint does it take to make a reader who lives on a planet full of endings
Why reproduce the whole scene when only one moment matters?
A reader who’s opened a book to its first page is in a tender predicament,
Whether she’s standing in the aisle of a bookstore or sitting at home.
All the authority belongs to her — the authority to close the book.
And yet she’s willing — yearning — to surrender her authority to the author
And keep reading.
You’ve been told again and again that you have to seduce the reader,
Sell the story in the very first paragraph.
(Nonsense, but it explains a lot of bad writing.)
I laughed at this one, too.
No subject is so good that it can redeem indifferent writing.
But good writing can make almost any subject interesting.
People clamor to tell their stories in words.
This doesn’t make them writers,
Nor does it make their stories matter.
You may be used to denying your perceptions and dismissing your awareness.
You may be caught in a constant state of demurral.
Watch for the chronic language of self-disparagement,
The moments when you say, “My problem is …” Or “It doesn’t matter what I think.”
If you say these kinds of things, you probably say them out of habit, almost unconsciously.
This is a product of your education too, at home and at school.
Pay attention to it.
Recognize how harmful it is.
Its message — subliminal and overt — is that your perceptions are worthless.
Do everything you can to subvert this habit.
Part of the trouble may be this:
You’re afraid your ideas aren’t good enough,
Your sentences not clever or original enough.
It’s surprising how often ideas that seem obvious to you
Are in no way apparent to the reader.
And vice versa.
What seems like common sense to you may come as a revelation to the reader.
Some people think that discipline is imposed from without,
Regular hours, strict containment, rigorous exclusion.
Some people think discipline is revealed from within,
Enlightenment, purity, solidity of intent.
Discipline is nothing more than interest and expectation, a looking forward.
It’s never hard to work when you’re interested in what you’re working on.
But what if you hate what you’re working on?
It helps to examine the content of your loathing.
What is it you hate?
The movement of your ideas?
The nature of your prose?
The obligations and prohibitions you still secretly honor?
It’s surprising how often the trouble with a piece of writing
Has nothing to do with the writing itself.
One of the most powerful feelings a writer experiences while working
Is a sense of obligation, of having to make a sentence or a paragraph
This way or that way, being obliged to write that sentence or that paragraph.
It’s a terrible feeling and always a sign of trouble.
Don’t preconceive the reader’s limitations.
They’ll become your own.
The books that trusted you most may be the ones you love best.
You’re not responsible for your readers’ ignorance,
And they’re not responsible for your erudition.
“Done” isn’t absolute or arbitrary.
Nor is it really about learning your limits as a writer.
It’s a compromise.
“Done enough” sounds too callow to describe the compromise,
So call it “perfection enough,”
As perfect as possible under the circumstances.
The better question now is the more fearful one: “How will I know when to stop revising?”
Let yourself ask the question why.
Why is the author choosing this word, writing that sentence that way?
Don’t expect to find an answer.
Expect to find some possibilities.
This passage has no larger purpose than to exist, to work out, for a moment, the possibilities of some sentences.
Reading these sentences — and my commentary on them — you’ll be tempted to side with the writer, to think, “I know what he means” or “I can see what she’s saying.” But that’s because it feels so normal to try to deduce the meaning of the sentence instead of observing what its words actually say.
We’re so trained to read for meaning — to look through the sentence to what we think is the author’s intention—that in our search for it we’re prepared to disregard the literal significance of the prose itself.
Don’t make time or frequency an attribute of the vehicle. Let the time or frequency indicator stand on its own. Cars flash past us now and then.
He hunched his shoulders, placed one arm on his left leg, and slid into the passenger seat before reaching across his body for his seatbelt.
Can you actually visualize this action? No. Descriptions of physical action require incredible care because we read them with our bodies as well as our brains.
Her clothes were nondescript, a white t-shirt and jean shorts.
And yet the writer can describe them. How about She wore a white T-shirt and jean shorts?