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26. What do we love about new words?

Oxford Dictionaries has selected vape as Word of the Year 2014, so we asked several experts to comment on language and the words that defined this past year.

The lexicographers at Oxford Dictionaries keep watch on our collective neology and select a word—or words–of the year: a word that is both forward-looking and reflects the culture of the current year. From 2004 we’ve had chav, podcast, carbon-neutral, locavore, hypermiling, unfriend, refudiate, squeezed middle, the verb GIF, and selfie. And in the UK, which has somewhat different sensibilities, the list reads chav, sudoku, bovvered, carbon footprint, credit crunch, simples, big society, omnishambles and selfie. The Word of the Year for 2014 is vape, edging out the short-listed finalists slacktivism, normcore, contactless, bae, budtender, and IndyRef.

Next week, I’ll be making a quiz of these words to see which students know and use. In class, we’ve been discussing how new words are created.

We talk about fixation: pre- (unfriend), suf- (selfie), in- (congratu-effin-ations), and circum- (embiggen). We explore the homonymy of prefixes and suffixes, and meaning of the word inflammable, which prompts discussion of the difference between ingrate and ingratiate. One student asks–in jest–why infallible doesn’t mean “able to fall into.”

We talk about acronyms and initialisms and the evolution of LOL and FAQ from “el-oh-el” and “ef-ay-que” to “loll” and “fak.” I find that my students are great verbers of nouns: They Facebook. They GIF. They gym. They library. They also reduplicate, compounding words to specify or intensify. I ask them the difference between a writer writer and a writer’s writer. “One makes a living and one doesn’t,” someone offers.

Our discussion goes on to the whys of word creation. New words encapsulate current ideas but also to express our identities as language users—irony, rebellion, erudition—and to characterize others, like the 2004 Word of the Year, chav, the British epithet for loutish youth in designer clothes. We talk about the accidental and logical leaps made by language users and how some of them end up as folk creations, like refudiate, the 2010 Word of the Year. I recount my own childhood confusion over hearing on television that American soldiers were fighting “gorillas” in Southeast Asia and tell them of the rejected job applicant who felt his department was often “the escape goat.” I offer my prediction that in fifty years the spelling segue will be edged out by the spelling Segway.

I always learn something new from the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year list, and I’m often surprised by my own and my students’ reactions to new usages.

Clippings frequently rub me the wrong way for some reason. When I am in a conversation where someone used words like cran, vacay, and bro, the usages somehow feel much too familiar, like a telemarketer addressing me by my first name. Abbreviations can be annoying too, as if the speaker assumes I am as immersed in some topic as they are and know all the shorthand. IMHO.

I’m enamored of blends though, and I smile at the recollection of the first time I came across the word hangry in a tweet from a former student. To me blends are verbal magic tricks: words sawed in half and magically rejoined. I always think of publisher Bennett Cerf’s description of Groucho Marx as someone who looks at words “upside down, backwards, from the middle out to the end, and from the end back to the middle. Next he drops them in a mental Mixmaster, and studies them some more.” Groucho would have loved the Urban Dictionary’s blend bananus, for the brown part at the end of a banana. When I finished my book on the language of public apology I toyed with using the word regretoric in the title, but wiser editorial heads prevailed. The best blends have a playful punning to them, in which the remnants of the old words encapsulate the new meaning perfectly (the worst blends are like Frankenstein’s monster, like schmeat, a finalist in 2013.). I’ll leave it to you to judge the blends in this year’s finalists: slacktivism (from slacker + activism), normcore (from normal + hardcore), budtender (from bud + bartender).

To me, mere affixation is not as much fun as blending. New words formed by affixation make me think of new versions of old products, some sleek, colorful, and playful (unfriend and selfie), and others a bit too clumsy (hypermiling, the Word of the Year in 2008, or contactless). As a consumer, I rush out to buy some new words and leave others on the shelf.

This year’s Word of the Year vape, meaning to inhale the vapors from e-cigarettes, is a word that I won’t use much, not being a vaper myself. But many people seem to be vaping and the word has a good chance of success. It’s brisker than saying “smoke an e-cigarette” and reinforces the difference between vaping and smoking. Adapted from marijuana terminology, vape is a classic clipping from vaporize, with the added analogy of vapors/vapers and vape, to smoke/smokers and smoke. The word has made its way from High Times to the New York Times and NPR and is already being used not just as a verb but as a noun and adjective. There are “Got Vape?” bumper stickers, vape lounges, and vape pens. Vape is likely here to stay.

Headline image credit: Word cloud via Wordle.

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27. Because

Because it is Monday. Because it was 7F (-14C) as I walked out my door to the bus stop this morning. Because my dentist told me I have to have two old silver fillings replaced and also need a crown. Because I got one more library book from my hold queue today and I am pretty sure I won’t be able to finish the three I already have that I can’t renew. Because Thanksgiving is next week and not this week and I thought it was this week and was so excited about only having to work three days and then getting a four-day holiday weekend and pumpkin pie. Because why not?

Because Margaret Atwood cracks me up: How to survive a zombie apocalypse according to Margaret Atwood.

Because libraries are awesome when you are a kid and continue to be awesome when you are grown up too: 7 things only kids who practically grew up in a library can understand

Because librarians are awesome too: What book should you read next? Putting librarians and algorithms to the test.

Because Emma looking like a Victorian lady is hilarious: Jane Austen fashion history.

Because pizza soup, mushroom sandwiches, and tomato soup cake: The dishes 16 writers would bring to a literary potluck.

Because just because.


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28. The future of systems neuroscience

How does the brain work? It’s a question on a lot of people’s minds these days, especially with the launch of massive new research efforts like the American BRAIN Initiative and the European Human Brain Project. It’s also a systems question because after all, the brain is a key part of the nervous system, like the skull is a key part of the skeletal system or the heart is a key part of the circulatory system. The basic approach to understanding how any system works has been clear since Greek and Roman times two thousand years ago: understand what the system does, make a parts list, describe how each part works, and then determine how the parts interact to carry out the various functions of the system.

Science is based on observing nature and testing resulting hypotheses to understand functional mechanisms. And major progress comes from the most general hypotheses—theoretical frameworks at the systems level: paradigms. Famous examples include Copernicus organizing the sun and planets with the earth rather than the sun at the center, Mendeleev arranging the basic chemical elements of all matter into a periodic table, and Watson and Crick’s model of the molecular basis of heredity—in terms of how the four nucleotide building blocks of DNA are arranged spatially in a double helix.

Systems neuroscience does not have a comparable theoretical framework, leaving it in a pre-Watson and Crick, or maybe even better, a pre-Darwin state of affairs. The solution is simple, obvious, and attainable—but essentially ignored in current “big science” approaches to neuroscience. Watson and Crick’s model of DNA led 50 years later to the sequencing of the human genome. At first, this project was widely criticized as frivolous, but it proved to be seminal in many ways, not the least of which is establishing the scope of the problem—the basic overall organization of the chromosomes—and allowing the relatively fast and cheap assaying of genome-wide expression patterns on a tiny chip. Getting the structural sequence was only the first step, but it was a necessary step, allowing all of functional, mechanistic understanding to follow logically, in a classic hypothesis-driven way.

Stained human neocortical pyramidal cell. Image credit: Bob Jacobs, Laboratory of Quantitative Neuromorphology Department of Psychology Colorado (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Stained human neocortical pyramidal cell. Photo by Bob Jacobs, Laboratory of Quantitative Neuromorphology Department of Psychology Colorado. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia.

The analogous solution for neuroscience is figuring out the basic wiring diagram of the nervous system, and this has to start with the connectome, essentially a table of connections between the parts. From this connectome a blueprint of the nervous system can be developed, like the architectural drawings for an office building, the plans for an airliner, or the schematics for a motherboard. The basic circuit diagram is like a skeleton, a basic framework for understanding the function of the nervous system. It is hard to imagine building and fixing a modern skyscraper, airplane, or computer without detailed and accurate schematics—and the same applies to understanding mechanisms underlying brain function and fixing problems scientifically.

Everybody knows that the brain is the most complex object on earth, so a viable strategy for solving the wiring diagram is essential. The approach here is also obvious—start with the simplest level of analysis, and progress to deeper and deeper levels. The simplest level is the wiring diagram between basic parts, and there are about 500 of them in mammals. This is analogous to displaying the airline routes between major cities around the world. The next level is the wiring diagram at the level of neuron types that make up each part—there are probably 2,500 to 5,000 neuron types in mammals. And the next level after that is the wiring diagram between all of the individual nerve cells that make up each of the neuron types—hundreds of millions to billions in mammals. The simplest, most general level can be solved now with current technology in rodents. Why not do it, and develop more efficient technology at the same time—just like the history of the genome project. Developing effective ways to interact between animal connectomes based on histology at cellular resolution and human connectomes based on MRI—and correlating both with genomic information—is the wave of the future. Great progress in diagnosing, treating, and understanding the etiology of nervous system diseases can be expected by correlating the results of genome-wide association studies with connectome-wide association studies.

Headline image credit: Diagram of brain synapses. Image by Allan Ajifo, aboutmodafinil.com. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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29. We Like What We Like

When he was little, one of my husband’s favorite Christmas movies was “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” I laughed out loud the first time he told me the title, sure he was making it up. But no, it’s a real movie starring a young Pia Zadora as a martian child. The acting is terrible, the […]

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30. Chemical warfare in terrestrial flatworms

Biologically-produced toxins include some of the most interesting substances in nature. As advanced as the chemical sciences are, nothing beats nature in terms of the wide variety of structures with specific biochemical properties. Toxins are one of the most effective mechanisms of defense or predation, generally used by organisms lacking traits like sheer size, strength, fast speed, agility, the ability to fly, or the capacity of technological intelligence (yes, this last one is us). I find this one of the most fascinating aspects of biology. As I said in the very first paragraph of my PhD dissertation:

“Nature is the best chemist. During the course of evolution, through literally millions of years, a wide variety of organisms have developed substances used for defense against predators, or to become predators themselves. As part of the evolutionary process, chemical structures beneficial for the survival of the organism are conserved; many of these molecules include small organic toxins.”

If you think about it, it is amazing how many different organisms use chemical compounds as a survival strategy. Such compounds represent the difference between survival and death in these organisms. Once we realize the true extent of chemical diversity in nature, it is no wonder that this embarrassment of riches is used by life. For example, plants and microorganisms account for about half a million unique compounds. According to Richard Firn in Nature’s Chemicals, plants alone are estimated to produce about a million tons (!) of chemical compounds every year.

One of the best-known, and paradoxically least understood toxins is called tetrodotoxin (TTX). This is a rather mysterious molecule. It was originally discovered in a species of pufferfish, of fugu fame (a delicacy in Japan) in 1909, but the toxic properties of pufferfish have been known since at least the 1700s. Its mechanism of action entails the blocking of certain ion channels that control neuromuscular function. There is no antidote. TTX is present in quite a few other types of marine organisms, including the blue-ringed octopus, several crab species as well as a variety of worms (including polyclad flatworms), snails and starfish among many others. Remarkably, amphibians like certain frogs and newts also possess TTX. The most likely mechanism through which organisms acquire this toxin seems to be symbiotic bacteria, but this has not been demonstrated in every single case, especially in terrestrial species. To add more complexity to the matter, there are at least twelve “versions” of tetrodotoxin.

Up until very recently, despite the widespread distribution of TTX in nature, it was never observed in any known invertebrate species. Here’s where flatworms come in.

Land planarian. Image Credit: Photo courtesy of Dr. Masaharu Kawakatsu, used with permission.
Land planarian. This photo has been used with permission, courtesy of Dr. Masaharu Kawakatsu.

Some of the most interesting invertebrates include land planarians, many of which display a distinctive “hammerhead” morphology. All known species of land planarians are predators and many land planarians are considered invasive species and agricultural pests because one of their preferred prey are earthworms.

Like many planarians, the land variety displays rather sophisticated “hunting” behaviors. Upon encountering an earthworm, the flatworm performs a maneuver called “capping” where it covers the earthworm’s head region, minimizing its escape behavior, even in individuals significantly larger than the flatworm. In fact, upon capping, the earthworm frequently seems to be paralyzed, which hinted at the presence of a toxin.

These observations ignited the curiosity of Dr. Amber N. Stokes, of the Department of Biology at California State University and collaborators, who hypothesized that the toxin in question was TTX, based on the behavioral response of salamanders that were fed with certain land planarians. In a recent paper, they reported that the planarian toxin seems to be TTX in the two species of land planarians studied, Bipalium adventitium and Bipalium kewense. Their results suggest that these flatworms use tetrodotoxin for both predation and defense. In addition to the documented paralysis-like state that the planarians induced in earthworms, the authors observed that salamanders offered these planarians as food tended to reject them and that in the case of B. adventitium, TTX accumulates in their egg capsules. Research is underway to conclusively demonstrate that tetrodotoxin is the actual toxic agent in these flatworms.

This is just one example of the usefulness of planarians as experimental organisms beyond their traditional use in regeneration and developmental biology research. These fascinating worms are experiencing a “scientific renaissance”, particularly in the areas of pharmacology, toxicology, and the neurosciences. They are ideal, tractable subjects to investigate aspects of these disciplines in an integrated way, as they can be easily examined from the molecular to the behavioral level.

These are exciting times in planarian research!

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31. My Euphoria at Discovering Anaphora: by Beth Ferry

The Use of Literary Devices in Picture Books: Part 1        Beth_Ferry_photo
by Beth Ferry

As parents, we are constantly teaching our children about the world: rules, facts and essential life truths such as: Be kind. Be patient. Bees sting. Eat your vegetables. Don’t eat the sand. Say please and thank you. Don’t step on that ant. As they grow older, teaching can morph into school related lessons: spelling tools, vocabulary words, and math tricks such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. As they grow even older, teaching becomes somehow more life affirming: Don’t drive and text. Be kind. Be true to yourself. Do your best. Hold your head up high. High school only lasts for four years.

In return, our children teach us how to be patient and forgiving. How to be creative and inventive. How to be happy. Watching them grow and learn has taught me a lot about myself, and I am a better person because I am a parent. But it is a rare event that I learn something academically new from my children. There are plenty of instances where I’ll encounter something I absolutely once knew, but have lost on the journey to adulthood, like, you know, the sum of interior alternate angles or how to balance a chemical equation. My college major was English after all. So imagine my surprise when, while reading aloud my new work-in-progress, my teenage son says “That’s anaphora.”

Stop the merry-go-round. What is he saying? Is it Latin? Text-talk? A new girl in his class? He explains it is a literary device he is learning about in AP English concerning rhetoric. What? He shows me his list of literary terms and I suddenly morph into a kid in a candy shop, marveling over this plethora of devices that I am unconsciously using and about which I have heard nary a whisper. I scurry off to devour this list, to taste each device and explore my own skill in using such lofty literary language without even knowing it.

There are reasons that these literary devices exist. It is because they work. The use of these devices makes writing stronger, more lyrical, more beautiful. Without even knowing it, I bet you will find your work peppered with polysyndeton, anadiplosis and euphony. Here are some of my favorites:

Alliteration. This one you will know as it is very common in picture books. I love alliteration and I’m sure you are familiar with the repetition of similar sounds in the beginning of successive words. I use them a lot in titles such as Stick and Stone or Pirate’s Perfect Pet.

Anadiplosis. This is the repetition of the last word of the preceding clause in the beginning of the next sentence. So it is almost like a word-segue between sentences. It’s hard to do, but very effective. The most recent and perfect example I can think of comes from the lyrics to the song “Glad You Came” by The Wanted:
Turn the lights out now
Now I’ll take you by the hand
Hand you another drink
Drink it if you can

Anaphora. This device is like alliteration but involving words instead of sounds. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of every clause or sentence. The opening of A Tale of Two Cities is the perfect example: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . It was the epitome of anaphora.

Anastrophe. Using this device allows the order of the noun and adjective to be reversed – think Yoda. It is also knows as hyperbaton, from the Greek meaning ‘transposition’. Poe uses this device to great effect, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing.”

Assonance. Like alliteration, assonance repeats sounds, but the sounds produced by the vowels only, such as “purple curtain”. In the same vein, consonance is the repetitive use of the consonant sounds, usually at the end – stuck, streak, luck. You probably use both of these without even knowing it.

Beth will return with MORE LITERARY DEVICES next month.  Rest assured…there are LOTS more!

Beth Ferry lives and writes near the beach. Her debut book, Stick and Stone, will be released on April 7, 2015 by HMH. Land Shark (Chronicle) will be released in Fall 2015 and Pirate’s Perfect Pet (Candlewick) follows in Fall 2016.  stick and stone cover


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32. Me and My Kobo

Have you all been wondering how my Kobo and I have been getting along? It’s okay if you haven’t but I’m about to tell you anyway.

Kobo Touch is so much smaller than the two keyboard Kindles I managed to kill. As a consequence it is also lighter. I didn’t think it would matter that much but my bag feels weirdly light these days and when I leave for work in the morning it kind of freaks me out because I think I am forgetting something. I worried that not having a real keyboard would hinder me in taking any kind of notes, but you know what? I don’t really do much in the way of notetaking to begin with so it hasn’t been an issue. The highlighting, that’s where it is at.

Since it is a touch screen all I have to do is put my finger on the screen and slowly drag it across the passage I want to highlight. When I lift up my finger, Kobo asks me if I want to highlight the passage or write a note. I tap highlight and it highlights. I tap note and I get a text box and a touch keyboard. Easy. Because Kobo Touch is eink the dragging my finger to highlight is a bit slow. I also find highlighting with my finger to be imprecise. This is not Kobo’s fault, this is also the case with any other touch screen I’ve used including my iPad. I find I tend to have extra words at the end of my highlighted passages but that’s ok. I’ve not yet tried to access my highlighted passages so I don’t know how easy that will be, but so far so good.

Turning pages is pretty easy. The screen is divided into thirds. The left and right third of the screen is for turning pages. A finger swipe to the left to turn the page forward. A swipe to the right to turn the page back. I’m still getting the hang of just the right pressure and speed. Sometimes I swipe too fast and nothing happens. Sometimes, I don’t know how, I manage to turn several pages at a time. Turning more than one page at a time happened so often at first that I somehow convinced myself that the right side of the screen was for paging forward and the left side for paging back. It took me a week to figure out this wasn’t the case.

A tap on the middle third of the screen pulls up the main menu. The menu screen is a lot different that Kindle. Kindle just listed my books in my choice of a few different orders. If I wanted anything else, I had to press the menu button and then a popup menu would appear from which I could select search, settings, etc, etc. Kobo has all this stuff on one menu screen in tiny blocks of various sizes that I find hard to read and confusing. But since I don’t spend much time on this screen, it is just an annoyance I have to put up with when switching books.

It might be my imagination, but Kobo has more graduated font sizes and a wider selection of fonts than Kindle did. I like that. Because of the confusing menu it took me a bit to figure out how to change my font and its size, but it is all good now.

An awesomely awesome thing about Kobo is that is uses actual page numbers and has no percentage bar. I didn’t think the percentage bar on Kindle ever really bothered me until I got Kobo and had page numbers again. The page numbers make me so very happy. Sometimes it is the little things that matter most.

Last weekend I dragged Bookman out in the cold and snow to look for a cover for Kobo. Kobo is the same size as a Nook Touch so I figured I could go to Barnes and Noble and find something acceptable. Nope. All they had were covers for HD Nooks and Samsung Galaxy tablets. When we asked about Touch covers they were supremely unhelpful and didn’t appear to really care about whether or not I bought something from them. Fine. So we didn’t even stay to look at books even though we had a 20% off coupon. The irony, of course, is that I ended up buying a lovely, inexpensive cover from Amazon, the very place I was trying to avoid buying from to begin with.

Kobo's coy sweater

Kobo’s coy sweater

The cover has not yet arrived. It is being delivered by dog sled apparently. I had been wrapping Kobo in a tea towel to protect the screen. Want to feel like a big dork? Sit down on the metro train and pull a towel-wrapped ereader from your bag. Bookman took pity on me and Kobo and crocheted Kobo a sweater. I like the Kobo sweater so much I almost cancelled the fabric cover order. But it will be nice for Kobo to be able to change clothes now and then. Perhaps Kobo might end up with all sorts of fashionable outfits, something for any and every occasion!

Kobo and I are still getting to know each other, but so far we are getting along pretty well. One of these days we will try and borrow an ebook from the library and see how that goes. For now, I am reading Jane Austen’s Emma on Kobo and having a lovely time.


Filed under: Books, ebooks Tagged: Kobo

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33. How to naturalize God

A former colleague of mine once said that the problem with theology is that it has no subject-matter. I was reminded of Nietzsche’s (unwittingly self-damning) claim that those who have theologians’ blood in their veins see all things in a distorted and dishonest perspective, but it was counterbalanced a few years later by a comment of another philosopher – on hearing of my appointment to Heythrop College – that it was good that I’d be working amongst theologians because they are more open-minded than philosophers.

Can one be too open-minded? And isn’t the limit traversed when we start talking about God, or, even worse, believe in Him? Presumably yes, if atheism is true, but it is not demonstrably true, and it is unclear in any case what it means to be either an atheist or a theist. (Some think that theists make God in their own image, and that the atheist is in a better position to relate to God.)

The atheist with which we are most familiar likewise takes issue with the theist, and A.C. Grayling goes so far as to claim that we should drop the term ‘atheist’ altogether because it invites debate on the ground of the theist. Rather, we should adopt the term ‘naturalist’, the naturalist being someone who accepts that the universe is a natural realm, governed by nature’s laws, and that it contains nothing supernatural: ‘there is nothing supernatural in the universe – no fairies or goblins, angels, demons, gods or goddesses’.

I agree that the universe is a natural realm, governed by nature’s laws, and I do not believe in fairies or goblins, angels, demons, gods or goddesses. However, I cannot accept that there is nothing supernatural in the universe until it is made absolutely clear what this denial really means.

The trouble is that the term ‘naturalism’ is so unclear. To many it involves a commitment to the idea that the scientist has the monopoly on nature and explanation, in which case the realm of the supernatural incorporates whatever is not natural in this scientific sense.

Others object to this brand of naturalism on the ground that there are no good philosophical or scientific reasons for assigning the limits of nature to science. As John McDowell says: ‘scientism is a superstition, not a stance required by a proper respect for the achievements of the natural sciences’.

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Lonely place, by Amaldus Clarin Nielsen. Public domain via The Athenaeum.

McDowell endorses a form of naturalism which accommodates value, holding that it cannot be adequately explained in purely scientific terms. Why stick with naturalism? In short, the position – in its original inception – is motivated by sound philosophical presuppositions.

It involves acknowledging that we are natural beings in a natural world, and gives expression to the demand that we avoid metaphysical flights of fancy, ensuring that our claims remain empirically grounded. To use the common term of abuse, we must avoid anything spooky.

The scientific naturalist is spooked by anything that takes us beyond the limits of science; the more liberal or expansive naturalist is not. However, the typical expansive naturalist stops short of God. Understandably so, given his wish to avoid metaphysical flights of fancy, and given the assumption that such a move can be criticised on this score.

Yet what if his reservations in this context can be challenged in the way that he challenges the scientific naturalist’s reluctance to accept his own position? (The scientific naturalist thinks that McDowell’s values are just plain spooky, and McDowell challenges this complaint on anti-scientistic grounds.)

McDowell could object that the two cases are completely different – God is spooky in the way that value is not. Yet this response simply begs the question against the alternative framework at issue – a framework which challenges the assumption that God must be viewed in these pejorative terms.

The idea that there is a naturalism to accommodate God does not mean that God is simply part of nature – I am not a pantheist – but it does mean that the concept of the divine can already be understood as implicated in our understanding of nature, rather than being thought of as entirely outside it.

So I am rejecting deism to recuperate a form of theistic naturalism which will be entirely familiar to the Christian theist and entirely strange (and spooky) to the typical atheist who is a typical naturalist. McDowell is neither of these things – that’s why his position is so interesting.

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34. The Palace Chronicles series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

When kids and teachers ask me for a book that's a twist on the Cinderella story, I offer them Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix and the companion novel, Palace of Mirrors. These books are royally good, and I strongly recommend them to fans of Shannon Hale.

In Just Ella, we met 15-year-old Ella after the big ball we're all familiar with - but it turns out the story everyone has heard isn't exactly true. Instead of getting glass slippers from a fairy godmother, Ella won them in a wager with a glassblower. Instead of having a pumpkin transformed into a carriage, Ella got a ride from a kind (and human) coachman. Instead of relying on magic, Ella uses her brain and her bravery to make her dreams into reality.

When the book begins, Ella is already engaged to Prince Charming. But being a princess isn't all it is cracked up to be. Conversations with the prince prove that, although he's nice, he's really not for her. After learning more about the war that's taking place beyond the palace gates, Ella becomes even more disenchanted with her royal life and yearns to do something that will help those suffering. When she tries to break the engagement, evil steps in and Ella is physically removed to a dungeon.

But the villains should have known that even dungeon bars can't stop Ella. She must use the same smarts and determination that got her to that famous ball in the first place to get out and to help her country. Ella is a selfless, intelligent leading lady, and Just Ella is a very neat adaptation.

In Palace of Mirrors, we follow a 14-year-old peasant girl named Cecilia. Raised by Nanny and educated and protected by Sir Stephen, Cecilia likes the evening best of all, for that is when she has lessons - "And for me it's the moment that divides my day as hardworking, ragged peasant girl from my evening as secret princess poring over gilded texts." (Page 22) She goes on to say, "The studying is no easier than the chores, but it's more promising."

But Cecilia isn't the peasant girl she pretends to be. She's a princess. When she was little, her parents were murdered. Cecilia was whisked away and a decoy (Desmia) was put on the throne. Cecilia can't tell any of her friends about it, not even her life-long best friend Harper. Meanwhile, Desmia, the decoy, thinks she's the real princess.

Then Cecilia's village is threatened, and she decides to reclaim the throne. Enter 11 other girls and knights. Each and every one of these girls thinks SHE's the real princess - and so do their knights. Their stories are all the same, and each girl was given a royal object as proof of her royalty.

Like Ella, Cecilia isn't afraid to get dirty, to walk barefoot through sludge, to bloody her fingers when trying to get out of a locked room. She doesn't yearn for the power or the fame or the riches or the ballgowns; she wants to bring peace to the kingdoms and make her slain parents, her ancestors, and her beloved caretakers proud.

Who reigns supreme in the end? You'll have to read the books to find out.

Palace of Mirrors takes place in the same world as Just Ella, with Ella herself making an appearance. Spoilers: Highlight to view - [ Ella is now engaged to Jed, who is the head of the delegation trying to end the war between Suala and Fridesia. Harper's dad died in that war, and though Harper's mom trained him to play the harp, he really wants to be a soldier.) And guess who has been working for the past year as the medical officer in a refuge camp near "the worst battlefield of the Sualan War" and wants to become a doctor after the war is over... ]

The third book in the line, Palace of Lies, will be released in April 2015.

The takeaways:
Follow your own truth.
Find your truth in yourself, not in others.
Do what is right for you.

Word of the day:
Munificent - to be extremely generous or liberal
Ella uses this word to describe Desmia.

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35. Quotes: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Continuing my transcription of notes I took five years ago, I offer you quotes from the outstanding book On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta:

The faces of the dead or missing, so young and happy that all I can think of is, how can they be dead? Toothy grins, mostly those school photos that you keep hidden. - Page 60

After the narrator finds all of the songs that Hannah mentions in her manuscript, she downloads them, making her own soundtrack:
I wrap myself in the music, curled up in my bed, thinking of Hannah, eyes wide open, forcing myself to keep awake. Unlike Macbeth, who has sleep taken away from him, I can take sleep away from myself.
- Page 135

My mother deserted me at the 7-Eleven, hundred of kilometres away from home.

Hannah, however, did the unforgivable.

She deserted me in our own backyard. - Page 135

"Hold my hand because I might disappear." - Narnie to Jude, Page 188

She looks as me intently. "She used to talk about you. She'd tell me that when I came to the school, I would have you and that she'd be the luckiest person in the world because she'd have both of us. I used to think she was your mum." - Page 242

How can you just forget a person completely until the moment you see his face again? Who else is back there lurking in my head? - Page 331

I'm holding one of only two people left in the world who share my blood: my father's sister, who one night sat in the same spot for four hours just to protect her brother from a sight that would have killed his spirit. - Page 397

So what is On the Jellicoe Road about? It's about a girl named Taylor was abandoned twice: once at a convenience store by her mother when she was 11 years old, and again by Hannah, her guardian and mentor six years later.  It's about the manuscript Hannah left behind, filled with stories about teenagers from two decades ago. It's about the struggle of power between different groups of students at Taylor's boarding school. It's about alliances, and secrets, and personal histories, and hazy memories. It's about the past. It's about the future. It's about Taylor. It's about Hannah.

Read this book. Read it now.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Booklist: From a Land Down Under
Booklist: Coming-of-Age Novels aka Bildungsromans
Hope: Melina Marchetta

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36. Hacking Harvard by Robin Wasserman

The novel Hacking Harvard by Robin Wasserman starts with a prank. Readers quickly learn that these characters aim to do things that will make people stop and think, to consider what's happening - no whoopee cushions or silly hacks, but rather, something that means something, that makes a statement.

The bet is to get someone into Harvard that wouldn't get in otherwise. Not a prank, Max clarifies, but a hack. Forget the kid stuff they've done before - this will be something huge, powerful, meaningful. Schwarz doesn't want to get expelled. Eric doesn't want to do something immoral. They find out that this is a bet Max made with the Bongo Bums. Named after Richard Feynman, a prankster and bongo player, they are two juniors from Boston Latin High School who make bets and do things for bragging rights, and want a rivalry with the other boys, who'd rather be left alone and do their own thing. Max pretends the bet is for $100 but the amount increases throughout the book.

"We're going to take the biggest loser we can find - the least ambitious, least intelligent, least motivated, most delinquent and drugged-up slacker we can get our hands on - and we're going to sucker this school into letting him in." At least, that's what is shared with the readers on page 46. Our players are not so forthcoming with the full details. Readers learn more about the terms and the payout as the book goes on.

It's not about sabotaging the other party's candidate but getting your own candidate IN. They get a tough guy named Clay who beat Eric up as a kid, when Eric tried to stand up for other kids and ended up as the punching bag.

Also along for the ride is Alexandra Talese. Wanting a name that is a little daring and edgy, she has decided to go by Lex in college. She takes the name out on trial run during her first in-depth conversation with Eric, after the SATs.

Lex wants to go to Harvard of her own choosing, not for the sake of "superficial, society-imprinted, consumerist non-entities," not legacy, but because she wants it, because she thinks it's the best school to attend, the result of her extensive college research:

"I had made my pro/con charts, carefully weighed all the options, and chosen a winner. There was a reason Harvard had a reputation for being the best, I'd decided, and the reputation was self-fulfilling, because it meant Harvard got the best -- the best students, the best professors, the best resources -- which I meant I wanted it to get me. I wanted to get lost in the country's biggest library; I wanted to learn Shakespeare from a grand master while staring up at a ceiling carved hundreds of years before. [...] I wanted to be in awe of the school, the teachers, the history, the legacy -- I wanted to be terrified I wouldn't measure up. I wanted to prove that I could." - Page 83

Lex reveals that she uses knowledge to her advantage - not just her book smarts, but the things she knows about certain people. She doesn't sabotage them in a physical or evil way, but she casually (or otherwise) lets people's secrets slip out so that she is picked over them: running for sixth grade president, talking the other girl out of joining the newspaper staff in ninth grade, then holding her position on the yearbook staff - this girl's theme song should be Use What I Got by Lucy Woodward!(1)

So why would an overachiever team up with the bums? Because although she had great grades, community service, leadership positions, and school staff positions, she felt like there was nothing outstanding about her, nothing that set her apart. No national awards or anything unique, outstanding, international, or amazing. She was not one-of-a-kind, she was not a special snowflake, she was merely one of many smart fishes in the sea: "Nothing set me apart. Nothing to make me special." - Page 213

Throughout the story, Eric is the voice of reason. He considers himself a realist, and he normally abides by the honor system, doing the right thing because it's right, so he really struggles with the bet. Eric is Jewish and says that instead of doing good deeds in life in order to earn a wonderful afterlife in an eternal paradise, "Judaism isn't about what happens next. It's about what happens here, in this life. You don't necessarily get rewarded for doing the right thing; you don't get punished for doing the wrong thing. You're supposed to be a good person just because that's the right thing to do. Doing the right thing -- that's the reward." - Page 170

Max Kim is a legacy, with his father and two older sisters all Harvard grads. Max likes to sell 80s items on eBay and thinks things should have a 500% profit. He's in this not just for his father or Harvard, but because of what they've been told: "It's about all the (nonsense) they've been feeding us since preschool: Do your homework, be good, fall in line, do what we say, and maybe, if you're lucky, you'll get the golden ticket. We're supposed to act like the only thing that matters is getting into college -- getting into this college - and so most of the people who do get in are the ones who buy into the (nonsense) so completely that they've never done anything for any other reason. It doesn't matter what they want, what they like, what they care about, who they are -- they don't even know anymore, because they're trying so (darn) hard to be the people Harvard wants them to be. In the end they're not even real people anymore. They're zombies." - Page 47 (Yes, I replaced the swear words for the sake of my younger readers. I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.)

Let's not forget Schwarz: geeky fellow, camera peeping got him out of their high school and homeschooled for two years. Now 16 and a Harvard freshman, this 96-pound weakling prefers numbers and photographs to real-life people, as humans are inherently flawed and photographs trap beauty on the page. Schwarz is eloquent. He doesn't necessarily use huge words, but he always uses full sentences and sometimes sounds a little antiquated ("I was not doing anything of any importance") as he actively avoids swearing and contractions (he tends to say "it is" rather that "it's"). He is awed by beautiful college girl named Stephanie who whines to him about her dates and breakups. He would be right at home in an 80s movie - and Max would then sell the movie poster on eBay.

The book also closes like a classic teen movie, providing information on what happened to all of the major players after high school - what colleges they attended, what career paths they followed, et cetera. There's also a disclaimer from the author asking readers not to hack in because it would be wrong, illegal, and dumb, and it's clear that she has both compassion for rising seniors dealing with college applications and total respect for admissions officers.

Wasserman is great at creating characters who are fueled by their goals and intentions, be they good or bad, selfish or selfless. The following speech is particularly awesome:

"Imagine there was something you really wanted. Not something petty, like knee-high leather boots or a new boyfriend, but something major. Something so significant that it would change your life forever. And imagine that you wanted that thing the way a child wants, without perspective, a wholehearted longing that consumed your entire being with the certainty that life would not, could not continue without it. Imagine that, like a child, you had no control over getting your heart's desire. You couldn't do anything other than lie awake at night and wish, furiously, desperately, hopelessly -- because, not actually being a child, you would know that wishing was useless. You would know that there are no magic wishes, no fairy godmothers descending with a wink and a want. Still, useless or not, you would dutifully squeeze your eyes shut every night, curl your hands into fists, listen to your heart thus, and, like a child, let yourself believe that someone was listening when you whispered: I wish. Now imagine that your wish was granted." - Pages 205-206

The book is mostly told in third person with first person woven in at the start, making readers curious about the narrator's identity until it is revealed - and it totally works.

Enjoy the book - but don't get any ideas, okay?

(1) Use What I Got by Lucy Woodward is an amazing song I have been known to listen to/belt out in order to pump myself up before a big event. I had the opportunity to sing it at an audition once - and I booked the gig.

Related posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Robin Wasserman
Playlist: Seven Deadly Sins by Robin Wasserman

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37. Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman

In the novel Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman, a young woman named Savannah - named after the tornado that was passing through and being announced on the radio when her mother was in labor - struggles to find her strength. Troubled by her severe asthma, she is one point of her three-person family, alongside her younger brother Dog (Dogwood) and her single mother, who can't hold job due to Savannah's frequent hospitalizations and emergencies. Her father left when she was three - and the asthma started the day he left. Meanwhile, her mother won't tell her employers about her daughter's condition due to pride. (See the quotes below the review - I include part of her speech from pages 211-212.)

Savannah has a summer job at the public library, where she works alongside a librarian called Miss Patsy. Her main task is re-shelving books. She also runs storytime sometimes, and some days it's a headache, but some days the kids are attentive.

Then Savannah meets Jackson. She hopes it's something more than summer love, and it seems to be, as Jackson supports her through hospital stays and other worries. But when Jackson has to leave, Savannah must live for herself, to fight her fragile trappings and find strength.

Meanwhile, Savannah's English teacher, Mrs. Avery, put Savannah's name in for the Program for Promising High School Students, a semester-long college experience for tenth graders in Blue Ridge Mountains. Only 50 kids from both Carolinas can go. She filled out apps even though she knew they couldn't afford it. This, more that anything else, struck a chord in me because my family had to let opportunities go because we couldn't afford them. And goodness, how that hurt. If you've been there, you get it.

Now comes the part of the review where I inundate you with quotes from the book. Read them and weep.

It may sound dorky, but I love books - the feel of the paper, the old, musty smell, and especially the way the words roll over you and take you somewhere altogether different. They've been my escape long as I can remember. Whether I need a break from schoolwork or my brother or just life in general, there's always a book that can take me someplace far away. - Page 7

"And one of my feelings comes over me -- one of those itty bitty moments when time seems to freeze -- just for a breath. And I get the feeling that this moment fits, matches somehow, with something from the future. And I know this ain't the last I'm going to see of Jackson Channing." - Page 80

Mama to Savannah: "When you love somebody, you got to set 'em free. If they love you, they'll come back."
"Daddy didn't come back," I whisper.
"No, he didn't," she says real quiet. "And maybe that was for the best."
- Page 125

Denny Caterpillar, DC - You'll get it when you read the book.

I go hide in my room and read through some printouts I made at the library about course choices for that program in the mountains. I know it's only dreaming. But I reckon if you go on and act like something is real, sometimes it just believes you. Next thing you know, there it is staring you in the face. - Page 173

Savannah's mother gives a great speech on pages 211-212 about not wanting handouts from others. The speech includes her not wanting to have to thank "those same folks whose faces, full of pity, I'd been forced to thank for their broken games all those years. [... I] promised myself we wouldn't never take a handout or let nobody drown us in their pity ever again, not so long as there's air in my lungs."

The book has some really nice chapter closures, such as:
Suddenly, I feel so happy, it seems like I got the opposite of asthma, like I got more air in my lungs than I know what to do with. - Page 222

"You hold my dream. I hold yours." - Jackson to Savannah, Page 244 - "You got to know that you can breathe all on your own."</i>

Spoilers - Highlight to read - [ Savannah ultimately realizes she has to find out if she can breathe on her own and be her own cure, not wait for somebody to come and rescue her like her mom waited for her dad for 12 long years.

Here are the final lines of the book.

Then up out of nowhere comes one of my too-true feelings. Even though everything is going all right, the sense I get is that what's on the way is even better. I imagine me and Jackson strolling down the beach together when I get home. Only the me in my mind has changed somehow -- in a way only I can discern. It's in the way I hold myself, in the tilt of my head, in the easy swell of my lungs, 'cause what's different is who I am inside. That new me there has a knowing this me here doesn't quite have a grasp on yet, a knowing that comes from scaling my own mountain, a knowing that comes from breathing -- all on my own. - Page 262
] - Here endeth the spoilers.

If you're a Sarah Dessen fan, you should read Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman. Now.

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38. Quotes: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I read A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly nearly five years ago, when it was a readergirlz book selection. Planning to write a review, I took notes, but the paper filled with quotes rather than commentary. When I happened upon those quotes today, I thought I'd share them here see which of my readers also read and enjoyed the book. Let me know in the comments below!

"It was a strange feeling -- worrisome and exciting all at once. Weanxilicious?" - Page 186
...to which I added, Hello, portmanteau!

"Emily Baxter's poems made my head hurt." - Page 208
Spoiler alert: Emily ends up being her teacher.

Weaver smiled a sad smile. "You know, Matt," he said. "Sometimes I wish there really was such a thing as a happy ending."
"Sometimes there is. Depends on who's writing the story."
"I mean in real life. Not in stories."
- Page 366

Mattie considers Paradise Lost:
It was a dreadful thing that he did, and he is not to be admired for it, but right then I felt I understood why he did it. I even felt a little sorry for him. He probably just wanted some company, for it is very lonely knowing things. - Page 372

I know it is a bad thing to break a promise, but I think now that it is a worse thing to let a promise break you. - Page 374

When Weaver asks her why she's going now, she tells him, "Because Grace Brown can't." - Page 376

She considers turning back, but:
There's no going back once you're already gone. - Page 377

All page numbers refer to the hardcover edition.

One of my notes that was not a quote. I wrote, "Mattie has a dictionary that her mother bought - her mother saved up money to get it. Mattie looks up a word a day." I took note of this because when I was very little, my mother gave me my own small dictionary so I'd be able to look up words whenever I happened upon one I didn't know yet. Due to both its size and its importance, that dictionary was the top-most book on my stack of reference materials for years.

Related posts at Bildungsroman
Roundtable: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

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39. Preview: Ed Emberley Monograph

Designer Todd Oldham, who has compiled impressive monographs on mid-century illustrators and designers like Charley Harper and Alexander Girard, looks to have made something special again with his book on Ed Emberley.

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40. San Diego, here we come

Ever since last year’s American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Baltimore, the Religion and Bibles team at Oxford University Press has eagerly awaited San Diego in 2014. As we gear up to travel to the west coast, we asked our staff across divisions and offices: What is on your to-do list while in San Diego?

Tom Perridge, Academic/Trade, UK:
I’m looking forward to returning to San Diego, having previously visited for the 2007 AAR/SBL. Oxford is cold, grey, and autumnal at the moment, so some Californian sunshine will be welcome! It’s always a pleasure to connect with both authors and readers and to cook up ideas for exciting new projects.

Don Kraus, Bibles, US:
As part of my task in publishing Oxford Study Bibles, I am meeting with the editorial boards of various projects in order to keep them moving along. I also hope to see some of the scholars I’ve worked with over the past years, just to catch up and have a chance to hear how they are doing. I look forward to meeting, either again or for the first time, as many scholars as possible who have worked on the second edition of The Jewish Study Bible, our brand-new, fully revised and updated revision of a text that’s already a classic.

Steve Wiggins, Academic/Trade and Bibles, US:
I hope to meet a long-lost cousin (literally!), as well as authors I’ve only met by email. Of course, seeing people I’ve known over the past two decades of attending is always a highlight. It’s all about the people.

Sara McNamara, Journals, US:
Though spending as much time outside exploring San Diego’s parks and beaches is definitely a priority, number one on my to-do list is a breakfast event for journals editors I’ve organized with the AAR and SBL. The breakfast will provide a rare opportunity for religious, biblical, and theological studies journals editors to come together to discuss the unique challenges facing journals and their editors. Emceed by Amir Hussain, the editor of Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the breakfast promises to be both fun and informative.

Gina Chung, Academic/Trade, US:
This year will not only be my first time at AAR, but also my first time in San Diego! I’m really excited to meet our authors in person, and I’m looking forward to getting some sun and 70 degree weather in November as well.

Alyssa Bender, Academic/Trade and Bibles, US:
I can’t wait to meet this year’s new batch of authors at the meeting, and hopefully snap some pictures of them with their books. I’m also excited to explore the city and find some fun restaurants! Hopefully at least one with outdoor seating—have to take advantage of the beautiful San Diego weather!

We hope to see you at Oxford University Press booth 829! We’ll be offering the chance to:

  • Check out which books we’re featuring.
  • Browse and buy our new and bestselling titles on display at a 20% conference discount.
  • Peruse our conference ebook promotion (up to 90% off!)
  • Get free trial access to our suite of online products.
  • Pick up sample copies of our latest religion journals.
  • Enter giveaways for free OUP books.
  • Meet all of us!

See you there!

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41. The Republican view on bipartisanship

Anyone who expects bipartisanship in the wake of last Tuesday’s elections has not been paying attention. The Republican Party does not believe in a two-party system that includes the Democrats, and it never has. Ever since the Civil War, when the Republicans were convinced that their Democratic opposition was in treacherous league with the Confederacy, the Grand Old Party in season and out has doubted the legitimacy of the Democrats to hold power. While the Republicans have accepted the results of national elections as facts they could not change, they have not believed that the Democrats were ever legitimately holding power. Democratic victories, in the minds of Republicans, are the result of fraud and abuse.

Consider some examples: In 1876, Republicans in New York said the Democratic party was “the same in character and spirit as when it sympathized with treason.” Half a century later, speaking of Woodrow Wilson, Henry Cabot Lodge told the 1920 Republican national convention that “Mr. Wilson stands for a theory of administration and government which is not American.” When Senator Joseph R. McCarthy spoke of “twenty years of treason” in the 1950s, he was not joking. He meant the statement as literal fact. So too did an aide to George H.W. Bush in 1992 when he observed, “We are America. These other people are not America.”

So when Rush Limbaugh comments that “Democrats were not elected to govern,” or Leon H. Wolf of Redstate says Democrats “should not be even be invited to be part of the discussion lest their gangrenous, festering and destructive ideas should further infect our caucus,” they are reflecting an attitude toward the Democrats that is at least a century and a half old.

If, as many Republicans believe, there are elements of illegitimacy and evil in the Democratic Party under the leadership of President Obama, then a posture of intense resistance become a necessary GOP tactic. Meeting the threat that the Democrats pose in terms of such issues as same-sex marriage, climate change   and immigration reform requires going beyond politics as usual and employing any means necessary to save the nation.

For contemporary Republicans, scorched earth tactics and all-out opposition seem the appropriate response to the presence of a pretender in the White House who in their minds is pursuing the collapse of the American republic. There no longer exists between Republicans and Democrats a rough consensus about the purpose of the United States.

RNC 2008
The 2008 Republican National Convention. Photo part of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

How has it come to this? A long review of both political parties suggests that the experience of the Civil War introduced a flaw into American democracy that was never resolved or recognized. The Republicans regarded the wartime flirtation of some Democrats with the Confederacy as evidence of treason. So it may have been at that distant time. What rendered that conclusion toxic was the perpetuation of the idea of Democratic illegitimacy and betrayal long after 1865.

After their extended years in the wilderness during the New Deal, Republicans reasserted their presidential dominance, with a few Democratic interruptions from 1952 to 1992. Republicans thus saw in the ascendancy of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and the two Bushes a return to the proper order of politics in which the Republicans were destined to be in charge and Democrats to occupy a position of perennial deference outside of Congress.

Then the unthinkable happened. Not just a Democrat but a black Democrat won the White House. The southern-based Republican Party saw its worst fears coming true. A man with a foreign-sounding name, an equivocal religious background, and a black skin was president and pursuing what were to most Republicans sinister goals. Under his administration, blacks became assertive, gays married, the poor got health care, and the wealthy faced both a lack of due respect and a claim on their income.

The Republican allegiance to traditional democratic practices now seemed to them outmoded in this national crisis. Americans could not really have elected Barack Obama and put his party in control of the destiny of the nation. Such an outcome must be illegitimate. And what is the remedy for illegitimacy, treason, and godlessness? To quote Leon Wolf again: “Working with these people is not what America elected you to do. Republicans, it elected you to stop them.” Pundits who forecast a new era of bipartisanship comparable to what Dwight D. Eisenhower, Everett Dirksen, Sam Rayburn, and Lyndon B. Johnson achieved in the 1950s are living in a nostalgic dream world. Richard Nixon viewed politics as war and contemporary Republicans will proceed to explore the validity of his insight over the next two years. For the American voter, clinging to the naive notion of the parties working together, each taking part of the loaf, the best guide may be Bette Davis in All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Featured image: Members of the Republican Party gather at the 1900 National Convention. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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42. Normally, This Would be Cause for Concern by Danielle Fishel

Looking for something fun to read this weekend? Pick up Normally, This Would be Cause for Concern: Tales of Calamity and Unrelenting Awkwardness by Danielle Fishel. This delightful memoir is in the same vein of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling: lighthearted, funny, and honest.

Normally, This Would be Cause for Concern is packed with anecdotes. Some are related to the entertainment industry (including my favorite bit, which I'll quote in the footnotes) and if you've followed Danielle's career from Boy Meets World to Girl Meets World, you definitely need this book, but you don't have to be a lifelong/diehard fan of hers to enjoy this memoir. Most of her stories are about finding the humor and joy in life. There's a chapter dealing with life as a klutz. She talks about balancing school with work when she was a kid, then going back to school and enrolling in college in her late twenties. She details job interviews, both in casting offices and retail stores, and the perils of dating and dealing with social media. No matter what she's discussing, Fishel's love for her family (including her parents, her husband, and their dogs) and her appreciation for her friends, teachers, mentors, and fans is clear.

My favorite Fishel anecdote deals with an audition which includes the line, "Can't you see I want to do more than pour cold milk on your head?" Danielle told this story at Worst Audition Ever, a live event which you may watch online via YouTube. I dare you to watch that and not say the line the same way she does...over and over again. It's hilarious.

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43. On World Diabetes Day, a guide to managing diabetes during the holidays

The International Diabetes Foundation has marked 14 November as World Diabetes Day, commemorating the date that Frederick Banting and his team first discovered insulin, and the link between it and diabetic symptoms.

As we approach the festive season, a time of year when indulgence and comfort are positively encouraged, keeping track of, or even thinking about blood glucose levels can become a difficult and annoying task. If good diabetic practice relies on building routines suited to the way your blood sugar levels change throughout the day, then the holidays can prove a big disruption to the task of keeping diabetes firmly in the background. With this in mind, take a look at this list of tips, facts, and advice taken from Diabetes by David Matthews, Niki Meston, Pam Dyson, Jenny Shaw, Laurie King, and Aparna Pal to help you stay in control and happy throughout the festive months:

  • Eat regularly. When big occasions cause your portion sizes to increase alarmingly, it’s tempting to skip or put off other meals. But eating large amounts at irregular intervals can cause blood glucose levels to rise significantly. For many, it’s better to snack throughout the day, including some starchy rather than sugary carbohydrates, promoting slow glucose release into the bloodstream.
  • Alternate drinks. Big dinners, big nights, and family days are likely to mean you consume more alcohol than normal. Alternating alcoholic drinks with diet drinks, soda, or mineral water can minimize their effect on blood glucose levels, so you can stay out, and keep up, without worrying.
  • Help your liver. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, an organ that also helps release glucose into the bloodstream when levels start to drop. After drinking, the liver is busy processing alcohol, so cannot release glucose as effectively. This increases the risk of hypoglycaemia, especially in people who take insulin or sulphonylurea tablets. To combat this risk, try to avoid drinking on an empty stomach, or eat starchy foods when drinking. You may also need to snack before bed if you’re drinking in the evening.
  • Eat more, exercise more. Regular activity can have major benefits on your diabetes, making the insulin you produce or inject work more efficiently. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise will have positive effects, and are excellent ways of giving you a mental boost (though blood glucose levels should be monitored). Many symptoms of hypos are similar to those of exercise, such as hotness, sweating or an increased heart rate. Check blood glucose levels regularly and make necessary adjustments; fruit contains natural sugar and is a healthy way of quickly raising levels.
  • Go for your New Year’s resolution. Losing five to ten percent of your starting weight can have a positive impact on your diabetes, not to mention your overall health. Although exercise and eating well are of course promoted by all as the best way to lose weight, there is no medical consensus on one ideal way to achieve weight loss. The key lies in finding an effective approach that you can maintain. Remember that insulin can slow down weight loss, and if you are trying to lose weight, but find you’re having hypos, you’ll need to adjust your medication. Discuss this with your healthcare team.
  • Check Labels. Sodium isn’t synonymous with salt, but many food manufacturers often list sodium rather than salt content on food packaging. To convert a sodium figure into salt, you need to multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. (For example: A large 12 inch cheese and tomato pizza provides 3.6 g of sodium. 3.6 multiplied by 2.5 is 9, so, the pizza contains approximately 9g of salt; one and a half times the recommended maximum of 6g.)
  • Don’t worry! Although a good routine is important, occasional lapses shouldn’t have a drastic effect on blood glucose levels (though this varies from person to person). Pick up a healthy routine in the New Year, when you’ll feel most motivated, and stick to it. The World Health Organization estimates over 200 million people will have type 2 diabetes by the year 2015, but (according to the international diabetes foundation) over 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by adopting healthier lifestyles. Healthy living is not just a supplement, but part of the treatment of diabetes.

Heading image: Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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44. Patterns in physics

The aim of physics is to understand the world we live in. Given its myriad of objects and phenomena, understanding means to see connections and relations between what may seem unrelated and very different. Thus, a falling apple and the Moon in its orbit around the Earth. In this way, many things “fall into place” in terms of a few basic ideas, principles (laws of physics) and patterns.

As with many an intellectual activity, recognizing patterns and analogies, and metaphorical thinking are essential also in physics. James Clerk Maxwell, one of the greatest physicists, put it thus: “In a pun, two truths lie hid under one expression. In an analogy, one truth is discovered under two expressions.”

Indeed, physics employs many metaphors, from a pendulum’s swing and a coin’s two-sidedness, examples already familiar in everyday language, to some new to itself. Even the familiar ones acquire additional richness through the many physical systems to which they are applied. In this, physics uses the language of mathematics, itself a study of patterns, but with a rigor and logic not present in everyday languages and a universality that stretches across lands and peoples.

Rigor is essential because analogies can also mislead, be false or fruitless. In physics, there is an essential tension between the analogies and patterns we draw, which we must, and subjecting them to rigorous tests. The rigor of mathematics is invaluable but, more importantly, we must look to Nature as the final arbiter of truth. Our conclusions need to fit observation and experiment. Physics is ultimately an experimental subject.

Physics is not just mathematics, leave alone as some would have it, that the natural world itself is nothing but mathematics. Indeed, five centuries of physics are replete with instances of the same mathematics describing a variety of different physical phenomena. Electromagnetic and sound waves share much in common but are not the same thing, indeed are fundamentally different in many respects. Nor are quantum wave solutions of the Schroedinger equation the same even if both involve the same Laplacian operator.

maths
Advanced Theoretical Physics by Marvin (PA). CC-BY-NC-2.0 via mscolly Flickr.

Along with seeing connections between seemingly different phenomena, physics sees the same thing from different points of view. Already true in classical physics, quantum physics made it even more so. For Newton, or in the later Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations that physicists use, positions and velocities (or momenta) of the particles involved are given at some initial instant and the aim of physics is to describe the state at a later instant. But, with quantum physics (the uncertainty principle) forbidding simultaneous specification of position and momentum, the very meaning of the state of a physical system had to change. A choice has to be made to describe the state either in terms of positions or momenta.

Physicists use the word “representation” to describe these alternatives that are like languages in everyday parlance. Just as with languages, where one needs some language (with all equivalent) not only to communicate with others but even in one’s own thinking, so also in physics. One can use the “position representation” or the “momentum representation” (or even some other), each capable of giving a complete description of the physical system. The underlying reality itself, and most physicists believe that there is one, lies in none of these representations, indeed residing in a complex space in the mathematical sense of complex versus real numbers. The state of a system in quantum physics is in such a complex “wave function”, which can be thought of either in position or momentum space.

Either way, the wave function is not directly accessible to us. We have no wave function meters. Since, by definition, anything that is observed by our experimental apparatus and readings on real dials, is real, these outcomes access the underlying reality in what we call the “classical limit”. In particular, the step into real quantities involves a squared modulus of the complex wave functions, many of the phases of these complex functions getting averaged (blurred) out. Many so-called mysteries of quantum physics can be laid at this door. It is as if a literary text in its ur-language is inaccessible, available to us only in one or another translation.

orbit
In Orbit by Dave Campbell. CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 via limowreck666 Flickr.

What we understand by a particle such as an electron, defined as a certain lump of mass, charge, and spin angular momentum and recognized as such by our electron detectors is not how it is for the underlying reality. Our best current understanding in terms of quantum field theory is that there is a complex electron field (as there is for a proton or any other entity), a unit of its excitation realized as an electron in the detector. The field itself exists over all space and time, these being “mere” markers or parameters for describing the field function and not locations where the electron is at an instant as had been understood ever since Newton.

Along with the electron, nearly all the elementary particles that make up our Universe manifest as particles in the classical limit. Only two, electrically neutral, zero mass bosons (a term used for particles with integer values of spin angular momentum in terms of the fundamental quantum called Planck’s constant) that describe electromagnetism and gravitation are realized as classical electric and magnetic or gravitational fields. The very words particle and wave, as with position and momentum, are meaningful only in the classical limit. The underlying reality itself is indifferent to them even though, as with languages, we have to grasp it in terms of one or the other representation and in this classical limit.

The history of physics may be seen as progressively separating what are incidental markers or parameters used for keeping track through various representations from what is essential to the physics itself. Some of this is immediate; others require more sophisticated understanding that may seem at odds with (classical) common sense and experience. As long as that is kept clearly in mind, many mysteries and paradoxes are dispelled, seen as artifacts of our pushing our models and language too far and “identifying” them with the underlying reality, one in principle out of reach. We hope our models and pictures get progressively better, approaching that underlying reality as an asymptote, but they will never become one with it.

Headline Image credit: Milky Way Rising over Hilo by Bill Shupp. CC-BY-2.0 via shupp Flickr

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45. The Civil War in five senses

Historians are tasked with recreating days past, setting vivid scenes that bring the past to the present. Mark M. Smith, author of The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War, engages all five senses to recall the roar of canon fire at Vicksburg, the stench of rotting corpses in Gettysburg, and many more of the sights and sounds of battle. In doing so, Smith creates a multi-dimensional vision of the Civil War and captures the human experience during wartime. Here, Smith speaks to how our senses work to inform our understanding of history and why the Civil War was a singular sensory event.

Sensory overload in the Civil War

Using sensory history to understand the past

How the Civil War transformed taste

Headline image credit: The Siege of Vicksburg. Litograph by Kurz and Allison, 1888. Public domain via the Library of Congress.

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46. Just Judy or Maybe Not!

Just Judy sounded like a catchy kind of title when I started to write this, but that was before most of the Judy annuals in stock sold. I'm now down to the last three hence the title - Just Judy – or maybe not! 

Judy for girls, 1970;  Lots of stories and picture strips including Fay Farrell nurse, Skinflint School and The Dreams of Alwyn.  Judy for girls, 1962;  Lots of colourful picture strip stories, including Sandra and the Sleeping Beauty (a ballet story), Backstage Betty, Heather in Italy, Joan all-alone, Millicent Churl, Colleen and the last witch, Tricky Trixie and Lillian Dobby. Also full-length stories, including big sister, Anna junior miss, the Queens' champion and Val of the Valley (district nurse story).  Judy for girls, 1966First picture strip story Sandra and the snow ballet, others include Penny the post, The Bolshoi Ballet, Fay Farrell emergency nurse, Polly and her pram and Robin Redbreast of Roxell.

Lucie Attwell's Annual, 1974;  Lots of fairies, Boo-Boos and other pretty things. Illustrations by Mabel Lucie Attwell stories by Penelope Douglas. Teddy Tail Annual, 1954First story the giant butterfly other stories include scarecrows' day, Bobby Bear's Saturday sixpence, and Tottie's swimming pool.  Lots of other Teddy Tail Annuals in stock. Bobby Bear  Annual, 1943First story A day's sport by Aunt Kitsie, other stories include Flowers for the colonel by Gwen Thornber, the wicked uncle by May Sullivan, Mr. Prickety changes his face by Christine E Bradley, M'Zooba of the river by W. H. Morris and a lucky escape by Maud Morin. Lots more Bobby Bear Annuals in stock.  

British Legion Children's Annual,;  Undated c1930s published by Dean, 6 La Belle Sauvage, Ludgate Hill. Deans resided at 6 La Belle Sauvage from 1933 to 1938 so that dates this annual.  First story the smuggler's cave by M. Ransome, other stories include Brown Minor's mistake by M. Gay, the lost boat by Margaret G Rhodes, Red vengeance by M. R. Sherlock, the mysterious highwayman by Arthur Groom, the wolf and the werewolf by Roma Lobel, Dixon's banishment by Eva Gray and every fag has his day by William R Bawden. We have this and one other British Legion Annual in stock at time of writing.  

TV Comic, 1959First story Muffin a tough carrot there is a second Muffin the Mule story called Muffin and the conjurer's rabbit both by Neville Main. Several picture strips, including Bengo by Tim, Bom the little drummer boy by Enid Blyton, and Lenny the lion, also full-length  stories, including Prudence Kitten's nursery school by Molly Blake. A lovely annual just full of memories.  Okay Adventure AnnualUndated c1959. First story - Order to Wellington by John Southcombe illustrated by D. May, other stories include the sea witch by D. L. G. Stainton, the glittering God of N'gai by John Southcombe and the air pirates by D. L. G. Stainton. Other Okay Adventure annuals in stock.  School Friend, 1972Lovely vintage annual, full of stories and picture strips. First picture strip story- the ugly duckling (how Maryon Blake, of St. Winifred's became a Swan thanks to a well-known ballerina), other picture strips stories include the house of dolls, Gail Gulliver, and Bessie Bunter.

Jolly Gnomes Annual, 1951First story the unhappy giant by Samuel Jeans other stories include - fun in the hayfield by Vera Bedford, the old woman and her husband by M. C. Haskins, and Father Christmas and the remarkable snowman by Cledwyn Hughes. There are also picture strips and puzzle pages. Very pretty illustrations by Ern Shaw in full colour and two tone. Sport for Girls, 1951;  Delightful annual, centre section with 16 full-page colour drawings of ladies in sport from 1851 to 1951 drawn by William Bromage also numerous black-and-white  photographs.   Japhet & the ArkubsA British newspaper cartoon strip originally appearing in the Daily News as the Adventures of the Noah Family. This book contains picture strips and stories about the Noah Family who all live at The Ark, Ararat Avenue, London. While their two dogs, a bear, a cat and a goat live in the Little Ark in the back garden. Nice example of a very hard to find title, undated but c1928. 


If you would like further details of the featured annuals please follow the links or visit  March House Books 


I made my first purchase from an Etsy shop last week. The shop in question belongs to my lovely blogging friend Diane. I can’t show you what’s in the parcel because it’s a Christmas present for my sister (shush!) but I can show you the care Diane took with the wrapping and the lovely card that came with it. Diane's Etsy shop is here

I hope your days are filled with sunshine and pretty things...  

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47. Recently Received

John Alcorn: Evolution of Design

We’ve received some wonderful titles this week and i’m excited to share them. Included are entries from Pointed Leaf Press, Moleskine, Kat Ran Press, Buro Destruct, Princeton Architectural Press and Chronicle Books. See all the books and images after the jump.

 

John Alcorn: Evolution of Design

John Alcorn: Evolution of Design

John Alcorn: Evolution by Design

John Alcorn: Evolution of Design

John Alcorn: Evolution by Design
By Moleskine
288 Pages / “9 x 11.5″

A never-before released overview of one of the most versatile designers of the 20th century, replete with revealing essays and several hundred images spanning over 4 decades, from the artist’s formative years to his untimely death at age 56. Containing an extensive account of Alcorn’s vast creative output, from posters, book illustrations, painting, advertising and design – accompanied by personal anecdotes and critical essays – the intricacy of his illustrations, the magic of his psychedelic imagery and the elegance of his execution unfold with every turn of the page.

Available at Amazon and Moleskine

 

Uncomprising Expression - Blue Note book

Uncomprising Expression - Blue Note book

Uncomprising Expression - Blue Note book

Uncomprising Expression - Blue Note book

Uncomprising Expression - Blue Note book

Uncomprising Expression - Blue Note book

Uncomprising Expression - Blue Note book

Blue Note : Uncompromising Expression
By Richard Haves / Published by Chronicle Books
400 Pages / 8.5″ x 11 7/8

Published for Blue Note’s seventy-fifth anniversary, this landmark volume is the first official illustrated story of the label, from 1939 roots to its renaissance today. Featuring classic album artwork, unseen contact sheets, rare ephemera from the Blue Note Archives, commentary from some of the biggest names in jazz today, and feature reviews of seventy-five key albums, this is the definitive book on the legendary label.

Available at Amazon, Chronicle Books and your local book shop.

Hand in Hand: Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman

Hand in Hand: Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman

Hand in Hand: Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman

Hand in Hand: Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman

Hand in Hand: Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman

Hand in Hand: Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman

Hand-in-Hand: Ceramics, Mosaics, Tapestries, and Woodcarvings by the California Mid-Century Designers Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman
By Dan Chavkin and Lisa Thackaberry / Published by Pointed Leaf Press
240 Pages

Hand-In-Hand: Ceramics, Mosaics, Tapestries, Woodcarvings by the California Mid-Century Designers Evelyn & Jerome Ackerman is the first monograph of the artists whose oeuvre was critically influential and is now seen as the epitome of California mid-century modernism. With a preface by Jonathan Adler, the book tracks the couple’s careers in the decorative arts from their beginnings to the creation of Jenev Design Studio and its eventual shift to ERA Industries, as well as their involvement in every prestigious California Design exhibition from 1954 to 1976.

Available at Amazon, Pointed Leaf Press and your local book shop.

 

Myopia - Mark Mothersbaugh

Myopia - Mark Mothersbaugh

Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia
Edited by Adam Lerner, Foreword by Wes Anderson / Published by Princeton Architectural Press
240 Pages / 8.5″ x 10.5″

Mark Mothersbaugh is a legendary figure for fans of both street art and music culture. Cofounder of the seminal New Wave band DEVO, he was a prolific visual artist before the band’s inception moving seamlessly between multiple mediums creating bold, cartoonish, strangely disturbed works of pop surrealism that playfully explore the relationship between technology and individuality. In the most comprehensive presentation of his work to date, Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia features a lifetime of his creative inventions from the beginning of his artistic career in the 1970s to his most recent work, including early postcards, screen prints, decals, and DEVO ephemera as well as later paintings, photographs (such as the celebrated Beautiful Mutants series), sculpture, and rugs.

Available at Amazon, PA Press and your local book shop

 

Ivan Chermayeff: Why Stamps?

Ivan Chermayeff: Why Stamps?

Why? Stamps by Ivan Chermayeff
Published by Kat Ran Press
12 Pages / 8″x9″

A good graphic designer pays attention to small things, and there are few things smaller than stamps. Ivan Chermayeff has been paying attention. For almost fifty years the acclaimed graphic designer has been making collages—and in those collages stamps and mail have played an important role. Envelopes are heads. Stamps are eyes and lips. However, one could be forgiven for never having noticed this, as the whole in Chermayeff’s collages is greater than the parts.

In Why Stamps? Chermayeff calls attention to the parts with a brief essay on postage stamps and a selection of fourteen collages which use stamps and mail to the best possible effect. Also shown are two of Chermayeff’s smallest cut-paper collages: Stamps for the USPS and Royal Mail.

Available at Kat Ran Press

Buro Destruct Tribler

Buro Destruct Tribler

Buro Destruct Tribler

Buro Destruct Tribler

Buro Destruct Tribler

 Tribler Book
By Buro Destruct / Foreword by Gregor M. Wildermann
96 Pages

The Tribler book characterizes, documents and catalogs twenty mythical creatures, idols and demons of the Tribler clan, based on text and image material. With a generous dose of humour it reflects on the attitude of the Buro Destruct.

The graphic designers from Bern explore their origins and the things that inspired them over the years. According to latest excavations, it seems as if every single Tribler symbolizes a working year of the graphic design collective. This mystery is particularly apparent in the form of artifacts and sources of inspiration on the respective double page after each Tribler characte

Available at Buro Destruct

 

Experience Passport

Experience Passport: 45 Ways to Broaden Your Horizons
By Alex Egner
64 Pages / 4.5″ x 7″

This pocket-sized passport guides users to have more life-enriching experiences with dozens of creative prompts. Take a different path to work or school every day for a week, make two works of art in different media, or subscribe to a new magazine. With space to record observations, the passport becomes a record of these priceless experiences.

Available at Amazon, Chronicle Books and your local book shop.

 

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will add value to our readers.

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48. The Hudson Prize and Blood: Stories

 
The first book written for adults that I ever coveted and loved and read to pieces was a short story collection: Stephen King's Night Shift, from which my cousin read me stories when we were both probably much too young, and which was one of the first books I ever bought myself. Ever since then, short story collections have seemed to me the most wonderful of all books.

I started publishing short stories professionally with "Getting a Date for Amelia" back in 2001. I barely remember the kid who wrote it (in the summer of 2000). I'm not a prolific fiction writer; I've been lucky enough to publish most of the stories I've written in the last decade or so, but I average only two stories a year. Fiction is the hardest thing in the world for me to write. Some stories have taken many years to find a final form. The kid who wrote "Getting a Date for Amelia" also managed to write a novel; it was mostly terrible (or, rather, not terrible, which might be interesting. Just nothing at all special. Rather boring, in fact. An extraordinarily useful exercise, though, dragging yourself through a novel-length piece of writing, even if the end result isn't all that great). I like fragments and miniatures too much to ever write a proper novel, I expect.

And—

What? Get on with it? Ah.

Yes, I am dithering here.

Because I am about to write a sentence that still feels unreal, though I've been writing various forms of it into emails to friends for a little while now:

I am the 2014 winner of the Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press for an unpublished manuscript titled Blood: Stories that will be published by BLP in January 2016.

The book will mostly contain reprints, and finally bring together all of the stories I've published since 2001 that are 1.) worth bringing together and that 2.) play well with each other. There are also a few unpublished stories, ones that I've never found the right home for but that felt to me like they belonged with the others, both gained and added context from/to the others, and were worth publishing. The editors at Black Lawrence Press agreed. One of the things I love about story collections is the way they can recontextualize stories, and the greatest excitement for me of this collection is that it will finally allow stories that have been scattered across a wide range of publications over many years to speak to each other.

I'm also incredibly excited to have found a publisher that is excited by what some others have considered either a fault or danger of the collection: its breadth of genres and styles. Perhaps out of sheer stubbornness and delusion, I was convinced that I could not be the only person on Earth to think the overall perspective of the work would create a coherence beyond genre or tone, that there was, in fact, a persistence of voice and vision. That's what the BLP editors told me attracted them to the manuscript, and when they said that, I knew I'd found what may be the perfect publisher for my work.

So I am excited. Beyond excited. I don't have words to convey the feeling of achieving something I've work toward for so long, something I often gave up hope of ever achieving. I wanted to write this post not only to let the world know the news, but also to preserve this moment so that, working through the more difficult parts of the experience (oh gawd, people might write reviews!), I can look back and remember what it felt like to be at this moment of triumphant possibility.

And to thank you, whoever you may be, who felt that it was worth some bits of your time and attention to read my words. I hope to continue to reward your interest.

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49. On Not Finishing Books

Did any of you catch the recent article at The Atlantic online Finish That Book!? The article’s author, Juliet Lapidos, argues that we should finish reading every book we start. To that I say no way lady. I spent half my life believing I had to finish every book I began reading and don’t even want to try to calculate how many hours of unhappiness slogging through a book I was not enjoying has caused me. I can, however, tell you that it did not make me a better person in any way in spite of Lapidos’ belief that it does.

Lapidos thinks that too many people give up on books too soon. She has had personal experience in which she has kept reading a book she did not like only to find that by the end of it she liked it very much. I dunno, to me this sounds like the bookish equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. If you have spent a large chunk of time reading 700 pages of a book you did not like, of course by the time you are done with it you will be looking for a way to justify all that time and effort because you don’t want to admit that yeah, you should have given up on page 35 after all.

Lapidos gives a number of reasons why one should never give up on a book. They are:

  1. Pleasure. Because you never know when it might get good.
  2. Fortitude. Finishing a book you don’t like makes you stronger by building up your ability to “endure intellectual anguish.”
  3. Respect. The author worked really hard to write that book and it is only right to respect their efforts and see it through to the end no matter what.

The only time you should ever stop reading a book is if it is utter trash. But then you should avoid reading trash entirely anyway so really this is a non-issue. Right.

Lapidos takes a reading-as-broccoli approach. Books are not broccoli. Want to kill a love of reading in someone? Tell them to read a book because it is good for them.

I know a book might get good eventually. Or it might not. Sometimes I am not willing to find out. Sometimes there is just enough of something about a book that makes me willing to stick with it in spite of my misgivings. And sometimes I am glad I kept going and sometimes I am not.

I don’t think there is any merit to being able to endure intellectual anguish. What’s the point of making yourself miserable? Is there some special award that comes with cash and chocolate I don’t know about?

As for respect, sure writing a book is hard but that doesn’t mean a person deserves respect. An author needs to earn my respect, I don’t give it automatically just because they spent five lonely years writing a novel. That was their choice, though now and then I wonder if it perhaps may not have been a sign of insanity and a cry for help.

I know there are plenty of readers who slog their way to the end of a book because they feel guilty for giving up on it. I have felt that guilt too and can totally relate. But as I have gotten older and realized I have gained very little benefit from that guilt, I have managed to cut myself some slack and give up on books I am not enjoying. If Lapidos prefers to read until the bitter end that’s no skin off my teeth, she can do what she wants to with her books. She just shouldn’t be telling me what I should do with mine.


Filed under: Books, Reading

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50. Immigration and emigration: taking the long-term perspective for our better health

Immigration is an inflammatory matter and probably always has been. Immigrant groups, with few exceptions, have to endure the brickbats of prejudice of the recipient population. Emigration, by contrast, hardly troubles people — but the departure of one’s people is not a trifling matter. I wonder why these differential responses occur. It seems to me that humans are highly territorial and territory signifies resources and power. Immigration usually means sharing of resources, at least in the short-term, while emigration means more for those left behind and brings hope of acquiring even more from overseas in the long term. This might explain why those most needy of settled immigrant status — asylum seekers, the persecuted or denigrated, and the poor — are most resisted while those least in need of immigration status, such as the rich, are often welcomed.

Notwithstanding, consternation about migration it is rapidly leading to diverse, multiethnic and multicultural nations across the world. Many people dislike the changes this brings but it is hard to see what they are to do except change themselves. The forces for migration are strong, for example, globalization of trade and education, increasing inequalities in wealth and employment opportunities, and changing demography whereby rich economies are needing younger migrants to keep them functioning.

Whether you are a migrant (like me) or the host to migrants it is wise to remember that migration is a fundamental human behavior that is instrumental to the success of the human species. Without migration Homo sapiens would be confined to East Africa, and other species (or variants of humans — all now extinct) would be enjoying the bounties of other continents. Surely, migration will continue to bring many benefits to humanity in the future.

Harmony Day by DIAC images. CC BY 2.0 via  Wikimedia Commons
Harmony Day by DIAC images. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

My special research interest is in the comparative health of migrants and their offspring, who together comprise ethnic (or racial, as preferred in some countries) minority groups. There is a remarkable variation in the pattern of diseases (and the factors that cause diseases) among migrant and ethnic groups and very often the minorities are faring better than the recipient populations. Probing these patterns scientifically, especially in the discipline of epidemiology, which describes and interprets the occurrence of disease in large populations, helps in understanding the causes of disease. There are opportunities to apply such learning to improve the health of the whole population; migrants, minorities and settled majority populations alike.

Let me share with you three observations from my research areas that help illustrate this point, one concerns heart disease and diabetes, another colorectal cancer, and the third smoking in pregnancy. Coronary heart disease (CHD) and its major co-disease type 2 diabetes (DM2) have been studied intensively but still some mysteries remain. The white Scottish people are especially notorious for their tendency to CHD. Our studies in Scotland have shown that the recently settled Pakistani origin population has much higher CHD rates than white Scottish people. Amazingly, the recently settled Chinese origin population has much lower rates of CHD than the white Scottish people. These intriguing observations raise both scientific questions and give pointers to public health. If we could all enjoy the CHD rates of the Chinese in Scotland the public’s health would be hugely improved.

Intriguingly, although colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes share risk factors (especially high fat, low fibre diet) we found that Pakistani people in Scotland had much lower risks than the white Scottish Group. This makes us re-think what we know about the causes of this cancer. In our scientific paper we put forward the idea that Pakistani people may be protected by their comparatively low consumption of processed meats (fresh meat is commonly eaten).

Might the high risk of CHD in Pakistani populations in Scotland be a result of heavier tobacco use? The evidence shows that while the smoking prevalence in Pakistani men is about the same as in white men, the prevalence in Pakistani women is very low. Smoking in white Scottish woman, even in pregnancy, is about 25% but it is close to nil in pregnant Pakistani women. This raises interesting questions about the cultural and environmental circumstances that maintain high or low use of tobacco in populations. These observations raise public health challenges of a high order — how can we maintain the cultures that lead to low tobacco use in some ethnic groups while altering the cultures that lead to high tobacco use in others?

The intermingling of migrants and settled populations creates new societies that provide innumerable opportunities for learning and advancement. While my examples are from the health arena, the same is true for other fields: education, entrepreneurship, social capital, crime, and child rearing to name a few. This historical perspective on human migration, evolution and advancement can benefit our health, as well as providing a foundation to contextualize the challenges and changes we face.

Heading image: People migrating to Italy on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea by Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy (Immigrati Lampedusa). CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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