|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
This book was recommended by Dave Pell at The Next Draft. I have yet to read a Pell recommendation that wasn't fantastic, including this book, which tells of the London Cholera outbreak of the 1840s and 1850s, along with the scientific investigation by John Snow (who, in this case, does know something), and Henry Whitehead.
I enjoyed this book and, given the current pandemic, strongly recommend it. In it, we learn about the cholera epidemic, about just how grateful we should be for and how amazing is indoor plumbing with modern sewer systems that take human excrement away from us for processing (household cesspools and cellars with foot deep shit in them were the norm back in Victorian England and wow, ugh, no thank you). We learn about how short of a time we have had the germ theory of illness (hello, 1850s), and how our biases adversely affect our thinking when confronted with overwhelming evidence our beliefs are inaccurate (hello incredible denyings, ignorings, and twisting of facts to fit our views). We learn about inadvertent consequences of mundane actions (hello tea as the culturally predominant drink, which incidentally boils water and kills bacteria that cause illnesses, there by reducing infection rates). And we learn about how knowing community means more than power when fixing said communities.
I did so much enjoy this book. It is a quick read. The conclusion and epilogue seemed out of place, like a story continuing after the denouement, but are still interesting - read them as two separate essays included after the cholera tale told.
For the record, the way to survive cholera is lots of clean water, don't over do it, boil the crap out of it first.
WASTE RECYCLING IS USUALLY ASSUMED TO BE AN INVENTION of the environmental movement, as modern as the blue plastic bags we now fill with detergent bottles and soda cans. But it is an ancient art. Composting pits were used by the citizens of Knossos in Crete four thousand years ago. Much of medieval Rome was built out of materials pilfered from the crumbling ruins of the imperial city. (Before it was a tourist landmark, the Colosseum served as a de facto quarry.)
Of course we think we're special. All of this has happened before.
There is something remarkable about the minutiae of all these ordinary lives in a seemingly ordinary week persisting in the human record for almost two centuries.
Sometime on Wednesday, it’s likely that the tailor at 40 Broad, Mr. G, began to feel an odd sense of unease, accompanied by a slightly upset stomach. The initial symptoms themselves would be entirely indistinguishable from a mild case of food poisoning. But layered over those physical symptoms would be a deeper sense of foreboding. Imagine if every time you experienced a slight upset stomach you knew that there was an entirely reasonable chance you’d be dead in forty-eight hours. Remember, too, that the diet and sanitary conditions of the day—no refrigeration; impure water supplies; excessive consumption of beer, spirits, and coffee—created a breeding ground for digestive ailments, even when they didn’t lead to cholera.
Imagine living with that sword of Damocles hovering above your head—every stomach pain or watery stool a potential harbinger of imminent doom.
One of cholera’s distinctive curses is that its sufferers remain mentally alert until the very last stages of the disease, fully conscious both of the pain that the disease has brought them and the sudden, shocking contraction of their life expectancy.
Good lord, horrible.
Dying of dehydration is, in a sense, an abomination against the very origins of life on earth. Our ancestors evolved first in the oceans of the young planet, and while some organisms managed to adapt to life on the land, our bodies retain a genetic memory of their watery origin. Fertilization for all animals takes place in some form of water; embryos float in the womb; human blood has almost the same concentration of salts as seawater.
When Prince Albert first announced his idea for a Great Exhibition, his speech included these utopian lines: “We are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great era to which, indeed, all history points: the realisation of the unity of mankind.” Mankind was no doubt becoming more unified, but the results were often far from wonderful. The sanitary conditions of Delhi could directly affect the conditions of London and Paris. It wasn’t just mankind that was being unified; it was also mankind’s small intestine.
But not all the locals had succumbed to abject fear. As he made his rounds, Whitehead found himself musing on an old saying that invariably surfaced during plague times: “Whilst pestilence slays its thousands, fear slays its tens of thousands.”
But if cowardice somehow made one more vulnerable to the ravages of the disease, Whitehead had seen no evidence of it. “The brave and the timid [were] indiscriminately dying and indiscriminately surviving,” he would later write. For every terrified soul who fell victim to the cholera, there was another equally frightened survivor.
From our vantage point, more than a century later, it is hard to tell how heavily that fear weighed upon the minds of individual Victorians. As a matter of practical reality, the threat of sudden devastation—your entire extended family wiped out in a matter of days—was far more immediate than the terror threats of today. At the height of a nineteenth-century cholera outbreak, a thousand Londoners would often die of the disease in a matter of weeks—out of a population that was a quarter the size of modern New York. Imagine the terror and panic if a biological attack killed four thousand otherwise healthy New Yorkers over a twenty-day period. Living amid cholera in 1854 was like living in a world where urban tragedies on that scale happened week after week, year after year. A world where it was not at all out of the ordinary for an entire family to die in the space of forty-eight hours, children suffering alone in the arsenic-lit dark next to the corpses of their parents.
The literature—both public and private—of the nineteenth century is filled with many dark emotions: misery, humiliation, drudgery, rage. But terror does not quite play the role that one might expect, given the body count. Far more prevalent was another feeling: that things could not continue at this pace for long. The city was headed toward some kind of climactic breaking point that would likely undo the tremendous growth of the preceding century.
I'm not sure that feeling has ever really disappeared.
Most of us accept without debate the long-term viability of human settlements with populations in the millions, or tens of millions. We know it can be done. We just haven’t figured out how to ensure that it is done well.
There is a lovely symmetry that comes from telling the story this way, because a city and a bacterium are each situated at the very extreme boundaries of the shapes that life takes on earth. Viewed from space, the only recurring evidence of man’s presence on this planet are the cities we build. And in the night view of the planet, cities are the only thing going at all, geologic or biologic. (Think of those pulsing clusters of streetlights, arranged in the chaotic, but still recognizable patterns of real human settlement patterns, and not the clean, imperial geometry of political borders.) With the exception of the earth’s atmosphere, the city is life’s largest footprint. And microbes are its smallest. As you zoom in past the scale of the bacterium and the virus, you travel from the regime of biology to the regime of chemistry: from organisms with a pattern of growth and development, life and death, to mere molecules. It is a great testimony to the connectedness of life on earth that the fates of the largest and the tiniest life should be so closely dependent on each other.
The scientific establishment was equally anchored in the miasma theory. In September 1849, the Times ran a series of articles that surveyed the existing theories about cholera: “How is the cholera generated?—how spread? what is its modus operandi on the human frame? These questions are in every mouth,” the paper observed, before taking a decidedly pessimistic stance on the question of whether they would ever be answered:
These problems are, and will probably ever remain, among the
inscrutable secrets of nature. They belong to a class of questions
radically inaccessible to the human intelligence. What the forces
are which generate phenomena we cannot tell. We know as little
of the vital force itself as of the poison-forces which have the
power to disturb or suppress it.
So often what is lacking in many of these explanations and prescriptions is some measure of humility, some sense that the theory being put forward is still unproven. It’s not just that the authorities of the day were wrong about miasma; it’s the tenacious, unquestioning way they went about being wrong. An investigator looking for holes in the theory could find them everywhere, even in the writings of the miasmatists themselves. The canary in the miasma coal mine should have been the sewer-hunters, who spent their waking hours exposed to the most noxious—sometimes even explosive—air imaginable. And yet, bizarrely, the canary seemed to be doing just fine, and Mayhew admits as much in one slightly puzzled passage in London Labour and the London Poor.
All of which begs the central question: Why was the miasma theory so persuasive? Why did so many brilliant minds cling to it, despite the mounting evidence that suggested it was false? This kind of question leads one to a kind of mirror-image version of intellectual history: not the history of breakthroughs and eureka moments, but instead the history of canards and false leads, the history of being wrong. Whenever smart people cling to an outlandishly incorrect idea despite substantial evidence to the contrary, something interesting is at work.
Miasma theories were eminently compatible with religious tradition as well. As one might expect from a man of the cloth, Henry Whitehead believed that the Golden Square outbreak was God’s will, but he supplemented his theological explanation with a miasmatic one; he believed that “the atmosphere, all over the world, is at this time favourable to the production of a most formidable plague.” To reconcile this hideous reality with the idea of a beneficent Creator, Whitehead had settled on what might later have been termed an ingeniously Darwinian explanation: that plagues were God’s way of adapting the human body to global changes in the atmosphere, killing off thousands or millions, but in the process creating generations that could thrive in the new environment.
The sense of smell is often described as the most primitive of the senses, provoking powerful feelings of lust or repulsion, triggering mémoires involontaires.
And not having a sense of smell sucks.
Modern brain-imaging technology has revealed the intimate physiological connection between the olfactory system and the brain’s emotional centers.
So went Thomas Sydenham’s internal-constitution theory of the epidemic, an eccentric hybrid of weather forecasting and medieval humorology. Certain atmospheric conditions were likely to spawn epidemic disease, but the nature of the diseases that emerged depended partly on a kind of preexisting condition, a constitutional susceptibility to smallpox, or influenza, or cholera. The distinction was often defined as one between exciting and predisposing causes. The exciting cause was the atmospheric condition that encouraged a certain kind of disease: a specific weather pattern that might lead to yellow fever, or cholera. The predisposing cause lay in the bodies of the sufferers themselves. That constitutional failing was invariably linked to moral or social failing: poverty, alcohol abuse, unsanitary living.
HEY! Blame the victims! A millennial old tradition.
People were more likely to die of cholera at lower elevations, but not for the reasons Farr imagined. And the poor did have higher rates of contagion than the well-to-do, but not because they were morally debauched.
Chadwick and Nightingale and Dickens were hardly bigots where the working classes were concerned. Miasma, for them, was not a public sign of the underclasses’ moral failing; it was a sign of the deplorable conditions in which the underclasses had been forced to live. It seemed only logical that subjecting such an immense number of people to such deplorable living environments would have a detrimental effect on their health, and of course, the liberal miasmatists were entirely right in those basic assumptions. Where they went wrong was in assuming that the primary culprit lay in the air.
Yes, the path of science works within regimes of agreement and convention, and history is littered with past regimes that were overthrown. But some regimes are better than others, and the general tendency in science is for explanatory models to be overthrown in the name of better models. Oftentimes because their success sows the seeds of their destruction.
Jane Jacobs observed many years ago that one of the paradoxical effects of metropolitan life is that huge cities create environments where small niches can flourish. A store sellin nothing but buttons most likely won’t be able to find a market in a town of 50,000 people, but in New York City, there’s an entire button-store district. Subcultures thrive in big cities for this reason as well: if you have idiosyncratic tastes, you’re much more likely to find someone who shares those tastes in a city of 9 million.
Increase the knowledge that the government has of its constituents’ problems, and increase the constituents’ knowledge of the solutions offered for those problems, and you have a recipe for civic health that goes far beyond the superficial appeal of “quality of life” campaigns.
The most profound impact may be closer to home: keeping a neighborhood safe and clean and quiet, connecting city dwellers to the immense array of programs offered by their government, creating a sense that individuals can contribute to their community’s overall health, just by dialing three numbers on a phone.
Indeed, it is the peculiar nature of epidemic disease to create terrible urban carnage and leave almost no trace in the infrastructure of the city. The other great catastrophes that afflict cities—fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, bombs—almost invariably inflict vast architectural damage alongside the human body count. In fact, that’s how they tend to do their killing: by destroying human shelter. Plagues are more insidious. The microbes don’t care about buildings, because the buildings don’t help them reproduce. So the buildings get to continue standing. It’s the bodies that fall.
So why are health officials in London and Washington and Rome worried about poultry workers in Thailand? Why, indeed, are these officials worried about avian flu in the first place? Because microbial life has an uncanny knack for mutation and innovation. All the world needs is for a single strain of H5N1 to somehow mutate into a form that is transmissible between humans, and that virus could unleash a pandemic that could easily rival the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed as many as 100 million people worldwide.
Right now we’re in an arms race with the microbes, because, effectively, we’re operating on the same scale that they are. The viruses are both our enemy and our arms manufacturer.
Right. At this point, I should be on book four or so of this series,, but I am not. This bingo square is guaranteed to thwart my other bingo square of 100 books read this year.
Okay, so, the book starts where The Eye of the World left off, with our merry band of Emmoners near the Blight. Along comes the Amyrlin Seat (the head of the Aes Sedai), who tells Rand, hey, she knows his secret, we're good, we've been looking for you. While this is happening, no one figures out the grumpiness from the cellar prison is from Fain, so along comes a herd of trollocs to break Fain out of prison, taking the Horn of Valere and Mat's dagger with him. Well, there we go, Rand needs to head off with his buds to find the horn and the dagger. Off they go.
Rand disappears from the merry band, traveling via other worlds accidentally in his sleep, fortunately with Loial and Hurin, The two of them find the Horn and the dagger, head to find Lanfear, er, Selene, who has been quite stunningly hitting on Rand, duh, but manage to lose both the Horn and the dagger to Fain again. Nynaeve and Egwene head off to Tar Valon, where Nynaeve goes through the Accepted initiation. They don't stay there long as they are lured away by Liandrin, a two-dimensional Red, but clearly Black. Fortunately, Elayne and Min come, too.
Meanwhile, the Seanchan are invading Toman's Head, which is where everyone ends up, as Liandrin dumps the four girls there, with the intention of handing all four of them over to be damane, or enslaved women channelers. Rand and his group are forced to Toman's Head by Fain, who took the Horn and dagger there. Hilarity ensues, much death, some destruction, all our heroes survive, one bit of "wait, what? no!"
I really like this series, as much as I have read of it. Given the series is going to be another epic saga via some paid television channel, sorta makes sense to read them. I strongly recommend the series if you enjoy sf/fantasy novels.
"Darkfriends multiply, and what we called evil but ten years ago seems almost caprice compared with what now is done every day.”
Well, that rather sounds like our last three years of the United States, now doesn't it?
"Whatever else I am, I’m a shepherd and a farmer. That’s all.”
“Well, the sword that could not be broken was shattered in the end, sheepherder, but it fought the Shadow to the last. There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet. Now, are you ready?"
Nynaeve touched her cheek. She could still feel where he had touched her. Mashiara. Beloved of heart and soul, it meant, but a love lost, too. Lost beyond regaining.
There were only two things wolves hated. All else they merely endured, but fire and Trollocs they hated, and they would go through fire to kill Trollocs.
“That should shield us from it.” He hoped it would. Lan said the time to sound most sure was when you were least certain.
Or, I don't know, be realistic and let others know that you're full of it?
“I’m sorry you had to do it, Loial, but it would have killed both of us, or worse.”
“I know. But I cannot like it. Even a Trolloc.”
"People see what they expect to see. Beyond that, look them in the eye and speak firmly."
She found it hard to think that there had been a time when she had been eager to have an adventure, to do something dangerous and exciting like the people in stories. Now she thought the exciting part was what you remembered when you looked back, and the stories left out a good deal of unpleasantness.
Like pooping. What adventure ever talks about pooping?
She sniffed. “If I were being held prisoner, I would not help my captors find other women to enslave. Although, the way these Falmen behave, you would think they were lifelong servants of those who should be their enemies to the death.” She looked around, openly contemptuous, at the people hurrying by; it was possible to follow the path of any Seanchan, even common soldiers and even at a distance, by the ripples of bowing.
“They should resist. They should fight back.”
“How? Against... that.”
How easy it is to declare what someone else should do when you haven't had the same experiences, endured the same hardships, seen the same events.
This is madness. There can’t be grolm here. Thinking it did not make the beasts disappear, though.
Cracked me up.
“Rand would kill someone who did a thing like that,” Elayne said. She seemed to be steeling herself. “I am sure he would.”
“Perhaps they do,” Nynaeve said, “and perhaps he would. But men often mistake revenge and killing for justice. They seldom have the stomach for justice.”
I don't recall where this book was recommended to me, or by whom. It continues my reading of World War Two survivor accounts, however. I do know know if I am reading more about World War Two because there is more to read, or because when you start to read about the horrors, more of the stories surface. I have no idea the source, but I'm reading more, and none of them lessen my horror of that time.
Code Name: Lise tells the story of Odette Sansom, a French woman who married an English man, moved to England, and became part of England's Special Operations Executive during World War Two. Her accent and knowledge of France made her well-suited for the role. She originally came on a courier for messages from the actual spies, but "courier" or "spy" is still the enemy in Nazi Germany during World War Two, and so, when caught, she was treated as if she were the spy.
Odette's story is fascinating and interesting and well worth a read. Loftis' telling isn't as horrific as a number of the other Holocaust books I've read, but that doesn't lessen the horror or tension.
The surprise I had from the book was the references to the German police force that pretty much despised the Gestapo. I considered the Nazis to be all of one mind, but, hello, even a 5 second consideration would have had me reconsidering that thought. There are people involved, so of course there would be those in the system who opposed the Nazis. It wasn't a consideration I previously had. I suspect had I studied the era more, I would have come to this realization much sooner than I had. People.
Lest Odette despair or feel sorry for herself, her grandfather encouraged her not to use blindness or pain as an excuse or handicap, but to be as clever as possible; there were many things she could do, and she should focus on those. Odette heeded the instruction and, as Hemingway put it, became strong in the broken places.
The quaint village was a haven and refuge but had a surprising disadvantage: the countryside and rolling hills—fresh with apple orchards, blackberries, and dahlias—were so enjoyable that Odette began to feel guilty. Countless others, she knew, were sacrificing greatly for the war.
He asked her how she felt about the Germans, and she said, “I hate them. I mean that I hate Nazis. For the Germans, oddly enough, I have pity.” “I thought you might separate Germans and Nazis. It was not the Nazis but the Germans who killed your father.” Odette blinked. Jepson had done his homework. She looked at the captain. “Yes, but they were driven then as they are driven now. I think the Germans are very obedient and very gullible. Their tragedy—and Europe’s—is that they gladly allow themselves to be hoodwinked into believing evil to be good. Last October a German major was shot in Bordeaux. You know that?” Jepson nodded. “The Nazis took one hundred hostages and shot fifty of them. You know that too?” He nodded again. “Well, it’s not only because of that that I hate Nazis. It’s because theirs is a humorless creed and a damned creed, and because they make men despoil other people’s fields and carry misery and fear wherever they go.”
Odette struggled with the decision for months. “If everybody thinks my way,” she asked herself, “what is the future going to be for all of those children everywhere? If I were in France, with children, I could be like some of other people who’ve already been captured, even with their children in concentration camps. No, because I’m here, I have a great excuse for not doing anything more than staying put with my children.”
“In many ways it’s a beastly life,” he told her. “It will be physically hard. More than that, it will be mentally exhausting, for you will be living a gigantic lie, or series of lies, for months on end. And if you slip up and get caught, we can do little to save you.” “To save me from what?” Odette asked. Buckmaster shrugged. “Oh, from the usual sickening sort of thing; prison, the firing squad, the rope, the crematorium; from whatever happens to amuse the Gestapo.” As one agent put it, what Buckmaster offered was quite simple: death. But a useful, heroic death.
Was he a soldier or a policeman? he wondered. He had no qualifications for the duties and enjoyed no aspect of the work. But what else was he to do? It was wartime and he had to obey.
Hugo would be undertaking a new, broader assignment, Reile told him, arresting British spies and Resistance saboteurs throughout the country. “We are fighting against bitter enemies who do us immense damage,” he said. “It is our duty to fight them with every available weapon, but I want our methods to remain clean; for our coat must remain clean, too. No violence in interrogations, no third degree, which does not really produce good results. No threats, please, and above all no promises that cannot be kept.” Hugo was fully aware that the instruction was to operate in a fashion exactly the opposite of the hated Gestapo, filled as it was with thugs and criminals. The Abwehr, as a military organization, expected discipline, civility, and professionalism.
Some returned; some didn’t. Of those who did, some retained a dram of dignity; others came back a shell of their former selves—physically, mentally, emotionally. Everyone has a breaking point and the Gestapo were professionals. The weak could be broken through hunger, hence the Fresnes starvation. Simpletons could be broken psychologically, repetition-to-attrition the favored technique.
Extended torture is a journey through a long, dark tunnel. When the agony reaches its apex—the black hollow—the body’s survival mechanism kicks in and the victim blacks out. The more skilled the torturer, the closer he brings his subject to unconsciousness without triggering the reaction. The Commissar was an expert.
It was by design; the Nazis preferred to torture using locals so that no one could say they were mistreated by a German.
Her warders weren’t especially vile or sordid, she replied; prison simply revealed and accentuated character—the strong became stronger; the weak, weaker. She bid Henri good-bye.
After three weeks Hugo’s local captain called him in, saying that they had negotiated a capitulation to the Canadians and that everyone would go to a prisoner of war camp as one body. Hugo refused. “You are a soldier and must obey,” the captain said. “I can obey no order that obliges me to be taken prisoner.”
Like many Germans, he hated the Nazis and had been involved with the Kreisau Circle in the thirties.
Jonathan recommended this book to me. He had watched the movie and, since it had an Antarctica connection, and suggested I read it. Well, he might have suggested the movie, but I read the book. Then watched the movie.
You know those annoying people who say, "The book is better!"? Yeah, I'm one of those. The book was better.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is the (fictional) tale of Bernadette, a reclusive Seattle mother who, through mishap, miscommunication, and misadventure, ends up traveling to Antarctica without her family. Bernadette's daughter is the one who wanted to go to Antarctica, and one can't blame her for that desire. Both parents are skeptical, but agree. Thus begins the miscommunication part of the story, as Bernadette tries to deal with her social anxieties, her husband misinterprets pretty much everything, the neighbor has to come to terms with her own family's issues.
The whole story is told through various documents, which is what makes the story delightful, and the movie okay. We read emails, transcripts, police reports, newspaper articles, and report cards. The tale is delightfully woven, a fun read.
A guy named the Tuba Man, a beloved institution who’d play his tuba at Mariners games, was brutally murdered by a street gang near the Gates Foundation. The response? Not to crack down on gangs or anything. That wouldn’t be compassionate. Instead, the people in the neighborhood redoubled their efforts to “get to the root of gang violence.” They arranged a “Race for the Root,” to raise money for this dunderheaded effort. Of course, the “Race for the Root” was a triathlon, because God forbid you should ask one of these athletic do-gooders to partake in only one sport per Sunday.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in the middle of a perfunctory conversation, and someone will say, “Tell us what you really think.” Or “Maybe you should switch to decaf.” I blame the proximity to Canada. Let’s leave it at that; otherwise I’ll get onto the subject of Canadians, and that’s something you seriously don’t have time for.
This cracked me up.
Pretty soon, I stopped thinking about home, and my friends, because when you’re on a boat in Antarctica and there’s no night, who are you? I guess what I’m saying is, I was a ghost on a ghost ship in a ghost land.
“Wait, weren’t you at the recap?” I asked.
“Didn’t you hear—”
“Yes! And this is Nick, who’s studying the penguin colonies. He was telling me he always needs helpers to count penguin chicks.”
We were quiet for a while, and then I said, “I think my favorite part of Antarctica is just looking out.”
“You know why?” Dad asked. “When your eyes are softly focused on the horizon for sustained periods, your brain releases endorphins. It’s the same as a runner’s high. These days, we all spend our lives staring at screens twelve inches in front of us. It’s a nice change.”
Here’s what surprised me about penguins: their chests aren’t pure white but have patches of peach and green, which is partially digested krill and algae vomit, which splatters on them when they feed their chicks. Another thing is penguins stink! And they’re loud. They coo sometimes, which is very soothing, but mostly they screech. The penguins I watched spent most of their time waddling over and stealing rocks from one another, then having vicious fights where they’d peck each other until they bled.
My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.
I had to go. If for no other reason than to be able to put my hand on the South Pole marker and declare that the world literally revolved around me.
I was turned over to Mike, a former state senator from Boston who had wanted so badly to spend time in Antarctica that he had trained to become a diesel mechanic.
I strongly recommend this book. It might not be life-changing, but I will buy you a copy for you to read, I recommend it that much. The experience of reading the book is significantly different than listening to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and veers into some church-preaching styles. I am not a fan of that particular style of speaking to start. I also tend to avoid author-narrations in general, as most are meh given most authors are not voice professionals. In general, I VERY MUCH prefer reading over audiobooks, so sticking with the book didn't bother me. YMWV.
The book is Kendi's personal journey through racism and his own work in overcoming his own biases. Along the way, we learn about his lessons, along with a commentary about what being an antiracist means. There are a number of maxims about being antiracist in the book, all of which can be applied to pretty much everyone. I appreciate how the lessons are taught as part of Kendi's story (and good lord what a story, why does this family have so much cancer in it, and all at such young ages, argh!), making the stories more relatable.
The one lesson I would ask anyone who read this book to come away with is this:
Making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making whole racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals are the two ways that behavioral racism infects our perception of the world. In other words, when we believe that a racial group’s seeming success or failure redounds to each of its individual members, we’ve accepted a racist idea. Likewise, when we believe that an individual’s seeming success or failure redounds to an entire group, we’ve accepted a racist idea.
Each person must be judged on their own merits. One person is not the representative for their gender, age-group, race, species. If this were the case, all white men are terrorist serial killer rapists. We have many examples of this not being the case. One bad meal does not make all restaurants awful, why would one bad day make all women bitchy, or all black men thugs (answer: it doesn't, they aren't). If we can keep this in mind, we have a chance.
Let me buy you a copy.
Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.
My parents followed Norton’s directive: They fed me the mantra that education and hard work would uplift me, just as it had uplifted them, and would, in the end, uplift all Black people. My parents—even from within their racial consciousness—were susceptible to the racist idea that it was laziness that kept Black people down, so they paid more attention to chastising Black people than to Reagan’s policies, which were chopping the ladder they climbed up and then punishing people for falling.
Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.
Black self-reliance was a double-edged sword. One side was an abhorrence of White supremacy and White paternalism, White rulers and White saviors. On the other, a love of Black rulers and Black saviors, of Black paternalism. On one side was the antiracist belief that Black people were entirely capable of ruling themselves, of relying on themselves. On the other, the assimilationist idea that Black people should focus on pulling themselves up by their baggy jeans and tight halter tops, getting off crack, street corners, and government “handouts,” as if those were the things partially holding their incomes down.
Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.
David Hume declared that all races are created unequal, but Thomas Jefferson seemed to disagree in 1776 when he declared “all men are created equal.” But Thomas Jefferson never made the antiracist declaration: All racial groups are equals.
We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.
Assimilationists believe in the post-racial myth that talking about race constitutes racism, or that if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away. They fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. Terminating racial categories is potentially the last, not the first, step in the antiracist struggle.
In fact, immigrants and migrants of all races tend to be more resilient and resourceful when compared with the natives of their own countries and the natives of their new countries. Sociologists call this the “migrant advantage.” As sociologist Suzanne Model explained in her book on West Indian immigrants, “West Indians are not a black success story but an immigrant success story.”
With ethnic racism, no one wins, except the racist power at the top. As with all racism, that is the entire point.
It makes racist sense to talk about personal irresponsibility as it applies to an entire racial group. Racial-group behavior is a figment of the racist’s imagination. Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups. And it is racist power that creates the policies that cause racial inequities.
Racist ideas often lead to this silly psychological inversion, where we blame the victimized race for their own victimization.
To be antiracist is to never conflate racist people with White people, knowing there are antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites.
We must discern the difference between racist power (racist policymakers) and White people.
Of course, ordinary White people benefit from racist policies, though not nearly as much as racist power and not nearly as much as they could from an equitable society, one where the average White voter could have as much power as superrich White men to decide elections and shape policy.
Racist power, hoarding wealth and resources, has the most to lose in the building of an equitable society.
How we frame the problem—and who we frame as the problem—shapes the answers we find.
The saying “Black people can’t be racist” reproduces the false duality of racist and not-racist promoted by White racists to deny their racism.
To say Black people can’t be racist is to say all Black people are being antiracist at all times. My own story tells me that is not true. History agrees.
It is best to challenge ourselves by dragging ourselves before people who intimidate us with their brilliance and constructive criticism. I didn’t think about that. I wanted to run away. They did not let me run away, and I am grateful now because of it.
This is book 24 in the Jack Reacher series.
Book starts out with Reacher on a bus. In his usual way, he notices things. In particular, he notices both an old guy with a wad of cash in his pocket, and a younger guy who also notices the old guy with a wad of cash in his pocket. Reacher follows the young guy, who follows the old guy, off the bus, and thwarts the young guy's mugging of the old guy. Reacher then helps the old guy walk to his destination, which, unsurprisingly, is to pay off a loan shark.
Except, the payoff doesn't exactly happen as expected. Reacher, with nothing particularly planned, stays to help the old guy and his wife (and, inadvertently, their stricken daughter). Along the way, Reacher returns to form. There's the girl (nearly always the girl he bops then leaves). There's the violence with many deaths. There's the repetition of some theme (several in this book, something about 10000 generations and another one I didn't note except when reading). There's the impossible situations that Reacher survives. And there's suspension of disbelief required to keep reading about non-trained individuals being able to handle situations that are difficult for even the most highly trained individuals. You know, Classic Reacher™.
I enjoyed the book. This one is non-stop action, with some strategy in the middle. Fun read. If you're a Reacher fan, read this one. If you're not, you'll miss much of the history and nuances of the story, possibly some of the humour by repetition, but will likely still enjoy the book if you enjoy absurd action novels.
“It’s something they teach you in the army. The only thing under your direct control is how hard you work. In other words, if you really, really buckle down today, and you get the intelligence, the planning, and the execution each a hundred percent exactly correct, then you are bound to prevail.”
“It’s the army. What they really mean is, if you fail today, it’s completely your own fault.”
Okay, so, Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Old Man's War. Classics in the citizenship / military commentary through science fiction genre. There are others in this genre, but these are the ones that come to mind. There is a strong likelihood that in upcoming years, The Light Brigade will be in that short list of classics in the genre.
Similar to The Three, this book follows a newly enlisted grunt, Dietz in this case, through basic training and the first hit of war, all while describing the world, the history, the conflict. Of course, we learn more of the motivations and history and dystopian nature of the world as the book progresses. Despite the grim beginning, the book has a "happy" ending (as well as a book about war can be "happy"), which I understand, even if most of my recent readings have far less ... uh, happy endings. Natch.
What we do have in this book is the commentary on the military, citizenship, human nature, war, corporations, capitalism, power, and, sure, socialism. Even Frank Herbert and Ayn Rand make entrances.
Several things make Hurley's world building so compelling in this book: the complete and total mis-visualization of who Dietz is (brilliantly done), the mind-f--- that the plot twists and turns through, and the way the story telling weaves with the commentary so subtly that you forget the philosophical commentary parts of the book (yes, yes, except for the three pages of in-your-face philosophy dump that pales in comparison with Galt's 50 page radio speech (which can be totally skipped if you ever do read that book)).
Enjoyed the book. Will gladly read more of Hurley's books, looking forward to them also. Recommended.
It happens sometimes; they can’t all agree on reality. Listening to the Big Six—when you’re allowed to get media outside your corp at all—is like listening to a bunch of nattering old people at a dinner party trying to remember some esoteric event from when they were kids. Everybody has a different memory. When they get frustrated, they start talking real loud, like that will make their memory more true.
There’s a fascinating course of study on the rise of fascist states that posits that they become more popular the more people fear death. And really, most corporate states are fascist, though they would have you believe they’re oligarchies, ruled by tables full of rich old people with humanity’s best interests at heart. The more fearful and out of control we feel, the more we look to some big man on a horse or a tank or a beam of light to save us. The survival of truly egalitarian societies requires—if not an absence of fear—then a harnessing of it.
There’s something that happens to you when you’ve been through the most grueling ordeal of your life with somebody. It’s like you’re closer than blood, after. Closer than family. There’s nothing else like it.
I kept my mouth shut and listened. Another good tip from my mom. People are always looking for reasons to imprison or kill ghouls. Stay quiet. Keep your head down. Be polite. They may still kill you anyway, but maybe they’ll kill the other guy first.
Darkness. It’s more comforting than you think, to be alone in the dark.
Kid I knew once called it the agony box. The Bene Gesserit. He was a funny kid, quoted a lot of Herbert. You know Frank Herbert? The litany against fear? I always found the litany more helpful than any meditation.
Yes, in the virtual box you know the torture will end at some point. Easier when you know it’s constructed. Easier to fight a constructed thing, especially if you’ve been taught how to survive real torture. No matter how real it all feels, you know that you will wake up from that nightmare and be whole again. You may have terrors, the shakes, after, sure. You might have to go through aversion therapy so you can function again in the real world. But you come out alive and intact. That’s how you can endure it. You know it ends. There’s a huge mental release in knowing there is an end to pain. A human being with hope can continue on far longer than one without. Did you know those who are mildly depressed see the world more accurately? Yet they don’t live as long as optimists. Aren’t as successful. It turns out that being able to perceive actual reality has very little long-term benefit. It’s those who believe in something larger than themselves who thrive. We all seem to need a little bit of delusion to function in the world. That belief can be about anything, too.
It’s important that we tell ourselves stories, Private Dietz. There’s a theory that consciousness itself begins with story. Stories are how we make sense of the world. All of us have an internal story that we have told ourselves from the time we were very young. We constantly revise this story as we get older, honing and sharpening it to a fine point. Sometimes, when we encounter something in our lives, or do something that does not match up with that story, we may experience a great sense of dissonance. It can feel as if you’ve lost a piece of yourself. It can feel like an attack on who you are, when the real world doesn’t match your story.
He reminded me of my brother, too handsome for his own good, bighearted, constantly trying to be a better human. There was no malice in how he spoke, just honest interest.
Everyone is owned by someone else. The resistance here wants to unshackle you, but that’s too frightening for most people. So what does that leave us? Free people who believe they are already free? They think they have chosen their servitude, and that makes them individuals, powerful. Freedom to work? Ha! Freedom to die on the factory floor, behind a desk, pissing in place because they don’t get bathroom breaks. Freedom to be fired at the whim of a boss bleeding you dry on stagnant wages you can only spend at the company store. But the choice of the whip or the chain is a false choice. Sometimes you have to leave people behind. They’re part of the old world. They aren’t capable of building something new. To build something new is to admit that the lives they lead aren’t what they believed. And to lose that belief . . . threatens their sense of themselves. The annihilation of beliefs is the annihilation of the self.
“You all right?” I asked Omalas, which was a dumb question. None of us were all right, but the silence frightened me. The silence invited me to think.
say? I have been fighting this war a long time. Once you begin to drop, time becomes a luxury, an outdated thing, like the idea of voting or equality or freedom that meant anything but freedom for the rich from the burdens they force the poor to carry for them.” It was the most I’d ever heard her speak. “Is that a quote from something?” She smiled without showing her teeth; a sad smile that never reached her flat black eyes. “No. Only a statement of truth.”
it. It’s funny, how sometimes you run so hard away from something that you find yourself exactly where you started.
What makes people believe this shit? I thought as I lay there listening. But it was easy, wasn’t it, when people were isolated. When information was scarce or siloed. People would believe whatever you put in front of them, if it fit their understanding of the world.
“Yeah. You sign up to fight a war. You keep fighting the war for the people next to you.
Corporations had been chipping away at the authority of governments for a century before the Seed Wars. They experimented with company towns, and then outrageous benefits for employees. As health care became more expensive, one didn’t even have to offer private transport and free meals. Simply helping pay the cost to cure grandma’s cancer was enough to ensure blind obedience. That’s how you keep them loyal. Foster distrust in the democratic governments that are actually accountable to them. Show them that only the corporations can save them from themselves.
“That’s the shit thing about systems. They get so ingrained . . . they can putter on awhile longer, even when you chop the head off. You don’t know you’re dead until six more steps down the road.”
Are you as old as your physical body, or as old as your memories?
When you are under the thumb of a corp, they own you. They say you have freedoms, choices. When your choice is to work or to die, that is not a choice. But São Paulo was no choice, either. It was a bad death, when this world was more than rich enough to ensure we could all eat, that no one needed to die of the flu or gangrene or cancer. The corps were rich enough to provide for everyone. They chose not to, because the existence of places like the labor camps outside São Paulo ensured there was a life worse than the one they offered. If you gave people mashed protein cakes when their only other option was to eat horseshit, they would call you a hero and happily eat your tasteless mash. They would throw down their lives for you. Give up their souls.
They made sure we had no good choices.
Why does anyone defect? Some defect for financial or personal freedom, certainly. For enough wealth, people will do anything. Others defect, simply, because they discover the world they believed they lived in proved to be false.
It was a small enough country that it was easy to restrict everything, to a far greater extent than any of the corps do now, even with our advanced surveillance and tracking systems. They were raised to believe their tiny spit of land ruled over by some doddering dictator was the center of the world. And you know what? It worked, mostly. For a long time. The war there was entirely a war of propaganda. The rest of the world worked to let the north know that there was another life beyond the one they knew. But there are always people who are more comfortable with what is certain and known than what is just . . . a promise. A what-if. The tipping point comes when you have nothing to lose. When you can’t stand it anymore. If your life is in danger, or your future is grim, then shit, why not defect? There’s nothing to lose. That’s the trouble with regimes that get too cruel. People need to feel like they have free will. They want to believe that nobody else is as free or happy as they are. If they aren’t citizens yet, well, shit, that’s their fault. They aren’t working hard enough. People disappear in the night, and you think, of course they must have done something wrong. Good people are rewarded. Bad people are punished. Many fought hard to get messages into the north, to share their own propaganda, and people defected, certainly. But only the very daring or the very desperate. The rest did not want to believe. This is something we don’t talk about . . . what happens when you are presented with a truth that contradicts everything you believe in? The widespread proliferation of information in the early days of the open knu, back when it was the wild net, should have made truth easier to find. But it turns out most of us don’t want truth. We want stories that back up our existing beliefs. Flood the world enough with information, and I will pick out only those bits that uphold the virtue and rightness of whatever corp I’ve been taught to love.
Sometimes, to save the world, you have to let it break. You let it break because even as it breaks, there will still be those who believe its demise impossible, even as they watch it disintegrate. Monsters do not die quietly, not the corporations, not the corrupt democracies and kleptocracies before them, and certainly not the monarchies, the feudal lords, the god-emperors, and the oligarchies. Most…
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Don’t tell me every revolution is peaceful. Revolutions rely on the tireless work of faceless masses whose lives mean so little individually that their names weren’t known to their movements even when alive. There is no bloodless revolution, only necessary revolution, when a system becomes so deeply broken you can’t affect change from the inside. When the system itself has become calcified so permanently that change is not possible . . . that is when the knives come out. I used to believe, as others did, that we could work within the existing system, that moderate change was possible. But when you take away the ability of the people to effect change within the rules of the system, those people become desperate. And it is desperate people who overthrow their governments. The corps tell us each individual should reap the profits of “their” hard work. But the reality is the corps made their fortunes on the backs of laborers and soldiers paid just enough to keep them alive. The…
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Any human power can be changed by human beings. That is a truth, a constant. Humans can’t build power structures that cannot be…
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They did not simply wait around for their governments to give them rights and freedoms. They demanded them. People should not be afraid of the corporations.…
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You’re a communist then. S: Let’s say I’m old enough not to be…
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Truth is a point of view. S: So says every…
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I pulled Prakash into my arms. Her eyes were already distant, the far-off look of someone retreating into death.
I backed out of the room. When I got into the hall, I realized my hands were shaking. When was the last time I tried to change anything in my life instead of just reacting to it?
Ordinary people would do anything for authority figures, as long as they could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
Maybe I’d wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe the Martians destroyed the whole city, from here to the sea, because it made it easier to sign up. Made it easier to follow orders. Believing lies just makes everything . . . easier, when those lies prop up your worldview.
There’s a tremendous moment of dissonance, like leaving your body, when you discover that one of the core defining moments of your life is mostly a lie.
“It means we clear the area around the crater,” Andria said, “by any means necessary.” I had my rifle over my knees. I had just finished cleaning it and putting it back together. “Sir, does that mean lethal force? On our own people?” “They aren’t our people,” Andria said, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Most are paid protestors. We’re doing a job, just like they are. They were told to disperse or face force. They know what’s coming.” “They aren’t even armed,” Omalas said. “Some may be,” Andria said. “That’s why we have to clear them.
She’d put it on Captain V. Captain V would blame the lieutenant colonel of the battalion, who would blame the colonel of the regiment, who would blame the major general of the brigade, and up and up, until what happened tonight rested on the peacefully sleeping head of some CEO who would never get her hands dirty. Never see the blood pumping from a mortally wounded friend. Never watch the life leave the face of some poor dumb kid who believed the world could be a better place.
But the protestors had decent defensive tactics. They were not complete fools. They came equipped with homemade power-nullifying vests, pepper-spray triage kits, and they had painted their faces to evade the face recognition software in our heads-up displays. Drones surged through the sky, ours and theirs. I admired the janky little craft they employed against us.
They had made a beautiful world from the over-heated toxic desert we’d created, and we hated them for it, because they were free to create a better world. No one owned them.
They had made the land grow things again, but that was all they were supposed to do. They weren’t supposed to be free because no one is free, and they weren’t supposed to be able to defend themselves because no one can, not from the corps. The corps won’t allow it. The corps take care of you, as long as you give them everything.
“Do you think a lot about mortality?” she said. I had no idea where that had come from. “Now? Sure.” “What are your thoughts on it?” “I never thought much about dying when I first signed up,” I said carefully. It was a relief, I realized, to sit here with someone who believed me, even if I was just some test subject to her. But I wasn’t a thing. I was alive. “Nobody really does,” I continued, “even when you see your friends stuck inside walls, or watch their torsos bust open, or hold their guts in your hands. It takes a while to really get that it could
happen to you. You’re the hero of your own story. The hero doesn’t die, can’t die, because then the story ends.
“Even if you take an oath of vengeance. But you’re committing to fight the greater evil. It doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes do some evil yourself. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t sometimes fighting for the empire. It just means that in the end, you do the right thing.”
“All the claims you make follow a logical path,” I said. “It’s ‘I won’t, I can’t,’ but you have to make it to ‘I will. I will. I do.’ It’s powerful. That’s the power of volition. That’s the power we can tap into when we jump. When we become the light. What directs us, always, is volition.”
“Life is a grind,” she said. “Your best bet is to find people who will endure it with you.” I fist-bumped her. “Here’s to endurance.”
She was going to die. I was going to die. Tanaka was going to die. But until then—we’d live.
What is it with people’s memories? It has to be in their face constantly before they get it. Before they realize they can’t just look away and expect it to all be fine.
We forget that people are power. It’s why they work so hard to control us.
Your socialist democracy can’t survive on Mars. They never do. People succumb to fear, no matter the government. The everyday person doesn’t want war, but it’s remarkably easy to convince them. It’s the government that determines political priorities, and it’s easy to drag people along with you by tapping into that fear.
People can always be convinced to turn on one another. All you have to do is convince them that their way of life is being attacked. Denounce all the pacifist liberal bleeding hearts and feel-good
heretics, the social outcasts, the educated. Call them elites and snobs. Say they’re out of touch with real patriots. Call these rabble-rousers terrorists. Say their very existence weakens the state. In the end, the government need not do anything to silence dissent. Their neighbors will do it for them.
Ours. I suppose it’s an old story, isn’t it? The oldest story. It’s the dark against the light. The dark is always the easier path. Power. Domination. Blind obedience. Fear always works to build order, in the short term. But it can’t last. Fear doesn’t inspire anything like love does.
That’s what it is, with bullies. The things they do to you shape your life profoundly. But they often don’t even recall your face, let alone your name.
“Whatever’s busted in your life—you can use its pieces to make the life you want.” —Warren Ellis
I still believe in the military. I believe there’s sometimes a greater evil that must be vanquished. But more often than we’d like to admit, there is no greater evil, just an exchange of one set of oppressive horrors with another. Wars are for old people. For rich people. For people protected by the perpetuation of horrors on others.
The heroes were always the ordinary people who pursued extraordinary change. The power of the corrupt governments and entrenched corporations feels inevitable. No doubt so did the rule of the kings and landowners before them.
Okay, this book wasn't really recommended per se, at least not for its contents. It was referenced in a Daily Stoic newsletter for its providence in ending up as the 1962 National Book Award winner, even though the publisher's president didn't like the book, and didn't promote the book, etc. The book was handed, very late in the process, to one of the award judges, who read it and nudged enough of the other readers to read it, and oh, hey, look it won. None of the process of winning the award, after writing and submitting whatever revisions Percy needed to do, was in Percy's control. Hence, the story's story in the newsletter.
I'm rather with the publishing house's president on this one, I'm very meh about it, winner or not. There are some books of earlier eras that stand up to the test of time. This is not one of them. Lots of negro this, and sexism that, and oh, I don't know what the hell I'm doing so I'll drift through life and use movie locations to define my existence.
Ahead of myself there.
Here we have Binx Bolling, a stockbroker in the early sixties. He hires women to work for him so that he can date them. He comes from a family well off enough that he doesn't seem to need to work. He has a lost cousin whose mental health is questionable after her fiancé died in a car crash days before their wedding. His aunt, the cousin's step mother, looks out for the cousin, thinks our protagonist is a charming young man (at 30) who just hasn't found his way in life.
Let me help: "Dear Auntie, Found my way, I'm going to be a slacker the rest of my life. Please send money. Love, Binx."
The main character lets others define his world (you aren't anywhere until a movie has been filmed in your neighborhood), and goes through life detached while observing, not a participant in life.
Meh, not a fan. Unless you need to read the book for class, don't.
Telephone conversation could take place at all hours of the night, conversations made up mostly of long silences during which I would rack my brain for something to say while on the other end you could hear little else but breathing and sighs. When these long telephone silences come, it is a sure sign that love is over. No, they were not conquests. For in the end my Lindas and I were so sick of each other that we were delighted to say good-bye.
Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics - which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker.
He has thick lips, cropped reddish hair and skin to match. She is mousy. They are not really happy. He is afraid their honeymoon is too conventional, that they are just another honeymoon couple. No doubt he figured it would be fun to drive down the Shenandoah Valley to New Orleans and escape the honeymooners at Niagara Falls and Saratoga. Now fifteen hundred miles from home they find themselves surrounded by couples from Memphis and Chicago. He is anxious; he is threatened from every side. Each stranger he passes is a reproach to him, every doorway a threat. What is wrong? he wonders. She is unhappy but for a different reason, because he is unhappy and she knows it but doesn't know why.
"A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man."
Kate gives me a look -- it is understood that we do not speak during the movie.
Although she has been working for me two weeks, I have not asked her for a date nor spoken of anything other than business. Yet the fact is
that for weeks I have thought of little else.
Wow, this is so completely rage-inducing. Hiring someone so that you can date her? Right, early sixties, women just coming into the workforce, sure. Whatever. Hate. It.
I seem to recall an article about a subway breaking down in New York. The passengers who had their noses buried in newspapers began to talk to each other.
I was laughing at this. Noses in newspapers. We are even less social in common spaces now.
He made a mistake. He was trying to sleep. He thought he had to sleep a certain number of hours every night...
Not in a thousand years could I explain it to Uncle Jules, but it is no small thing for me to make a trip, travel hundreds of miles across the country by night to a strange place and come out where there is a different smell in the air and people have a different way of sticking themselves into the world. It is a small thing to him but not to me. It is nothing to him to close his eyes in New Orleans and wake up in San Francisco and think the same thoughts on Telegraph Hill that he thought on Carondelet Street. Me, it is my fortune and misfortune to know how the spirit-presence of a strange place can enrich man or rob a man but never leave him alone, how, if a man travels lightly to a hundred strange cities and cares nothing ing for the risk he takes, he may find himself No one and Nowhere.
Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upside down: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive.
"Do you think it is possible for a person to make a single mistake -- not do something wrong, you understand, but make a miscalculation - and ruin his life?"
"I mean after all. Couldn't a person be miserable because he got one thing wrong and never learned otherwise - because the thing he got wrong was of such a nature that he could not be told because the telling iteslf got it wrong - just as if you had landed on Mars and therefore had no way of knowing that a Martian is mortally offended by a question and so every time you asked what was wrong, it ony grew worse for you?"
You say it is a simple thing surely, all gain and no loss, to pick up a good-looking woman and head for the beach on the first fine day of the year. So say the newspaper poets. Well it is not such simple thing and if you have ever done it, you know it isn't -- unless, of course, the woman happens to be your wife or some other everyday creature so familiar to you that she is as invisible as yourself. Where there is chance of gain, there is also chance of loss. Whenever one courts great happiness, one also risks malaise.
We swim and lie down together. The remarkable discovery forces itself upon me that I do not love her so wildly as I loved her last night.
But, good as it is, my old place is used up (places get used up by rotatory and repetitive use) and when I awake, I awake in the grip of everydayness. Everydayness is the enemy. No search is possible. Perhaps there was a time when everydayness was not too strong and one could break its grip by brute strength. Now nothing breaks it - but disaster
"Losing hope is not so bad. There's something worse: losing hope and hiding it from yourself."
Money is a good counterpoise to beauty. Beauty, the quest of beauty alone, is a whoredom.
I have been a Caitlin Doughty fan since I read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes four-ish years ago. I love her (admittedly lower) voice (like likes like?), and was delighted to see her speak at XOXO fest this year.
Recognizing our own mortality is a recurring theme in (Classical) Stoicism. It is a recurring theme in Buddhism. It is a recurring theme in every murder mystery book and forensic science television show. Every one of us will die (well, until I die, I have no idea about the rest of you).
Accepting this, being one with the end, and being able to prepare for it, are parts of the good death that Doughty writes about, talks about, fights for for the rest of us who are lost in the commercial maze of the American death industry. I appreciate her efforts for this far beyond anything I can adequately express.
This book is a survey of death rituals and customs around the world, some still around, some no longer around. Some cultures are more in tuned with death, pretty much all of them are more in tuned with death than the American culture. If I go after family members, and I have any say about the process, I'm going to sit with my grief, instead of allowing the American Death Industry to sweep my grief and family members under the rug.
I enjoyed this book, Doughty's humor on such a tough subject is spot-on wonderful. I strongly recommend this book for anyone not denying their own death, for anyone who thinks others shouldn't profit from their family member's grief.
And, good lord, stop embalming. WTF why embalm? Let's make sure the body is preserved so that it takes a LONG LONG LONG time to decay. What? No. Dump my body in liquid nitrogen until solid, drop from 10 meters up, take the shattered pieces and compost them. Let me actually grow a tree (those ashes? they don't do shit for growing trees, read the book to find out why).
That is to say, we consider death rituals savage only when they don’t match our own.
There was chaos, screaming. The footage from my small video camera went into Cloverfield mode, heavy breathing and sweeping shots of the ground.
French anthropologist Noëlie Vialles wrote of the food system in France, though this could be said of almost any country in the West: “slaughtering was required to be industrial, that is to say large-scale and anonymous; it must be non-violent (ideally: painless); and it must be invisible (ideally: non-existent). It must be as if it were not.” It must be as if it were not.
When the family had to clean inside his boxers and brush around his mummified penis, they looked just as uncomfortable as you would expect. They made a self-deprecating joke and got the job done.
Which raises the question, why preserve the body so intensely if you’re not planning to keep it around, America?
“The archetypal woman is as a bringer of life,” Sarah said, “but my body was a tomb.
In death, corpses don’t hold themselves together. They no longer have to play by the living’s rules.
Another woman noticed Sarah’s silent tears and went to get her a tissue, quietly holding her arm.
I joined in, and the two of us blanketed the mixture down his neck and around his arms, almost tucking him in. “We’re making a little nest for him! It looks comfy,” Katrina said. She stopped, scolding herself. “Dr. J wouldn’t want us to be this sentimental with the bodies. Cut it out, Katrina.” I wasn’t so sure. Earlier in the day Dr. Johnston had told me a story about a man in his eighties who donated his body to FOREST. After he died, his wife and daughter drove his body to the facility in the family truck. They were even allowed to pick a spot in the underbrush for him. Then, only six months later, his wife died. She requested that her body be laid out in an area next to her husband. That request was honored, and man and wife decayed into the earth side by side, together as they had been in life.
It is worth noting that the main players in the recomposition project are women—scientists, anthropologists, lawyers, architects. Educated women, who have the privilege to devote their efforts to righting a wrong. They’ve given prominent space in their professional careers to changing the current system of death. Katrina noted that “humans are so focused on preventing aging and decay—it’s become an obsession. And for those who have been socialized female, that pressure is relentless. So decomposition becomes a radical act. It’s a way to say, ‘I love and accept myself.’ ”
Women’s bodies are so often under the purview of men, whether it’s our reproductive organs, our sexuality, our weight, our manner of dress. There is a freedom found in decomposition, a body rendered messy, chaotic, and wild.
When deathcare became an industry in the early twentieth century, there was a seismic shift in who was responsible for the dead. Caring for the corpse went from visceral, primeval work performed by women to a “profession,” an “art,” and even a “science,” performed by well-paid men. The corpse, with all its physical and emotional messiness, was taken from women. It was made neat and clean, and placed in its casket on a pedestal, always just out of our grasp.
Maybe a process like recomposition is our attempt to reclaim our corpses. Maybe we wish to become soil for a willow tree, a rosebush, a pine—destined in death to both rot and nourish on our own terms.
The people I spoke to in Barcelona (regular citizens and funeral workers alike) complained of how rushed the process of death seemed. Everyone felt the body should be buried within twenty-four hours, but nobody was quite sure why. Mourners felt pressure from funeral directors to get things completed. In turn, the funeral directors protested that families “want things fast, fast, fast, in less than twenty-four hours.” Everyone seemed trapped in the twenty-four-hour hamster wheel. Theories for this time frame ranged from historical factors like Spain’s Muslim past (Islam requires bodies to be buried swiftly after death) to the warm Mediterranean weather, which would allow bodies to putrefy more quickly than elsewhere in Europe.
Prior to the twentieth century, it was not uncommon to believe that the corpse was a dangerous entity that spread pestilence and disease. Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid explained to the BBC that the Muslim tradition of burial in the first twenty-four hours “was a way to protect the living from any sanitary issues.” The Jewish tradition follows similar rules. Such fear across cultures inspired the developed world to erect protective barriers between the corpse and the family.
The shift toward removing those barriers has been slow-going, even though prominent entities like the World Health Organization make clear that even after a mass death event, “contrary to common belief, there is no evidence that corpses pose a risk of disease ‘epidemics.’ ”
The Centers for Disease Control puts it even more bluntly: “The sight and smell of decay are unpleasant, but they do not create a public health hazard.”
With this in mind, I asked Josep, the owner, if they would allow the family to keep the body at home, sans protective glass boxes. Though he insisted Altima rarely received such a request,
Josep promised they would allow it, sending their employees out to the home to “close the holes.”
In the Judeo-Christian view—and thus, the dominant Western view—to die by suicide is a sinful, selfish act. This perception has been slow to fade, though the science is clear that suicide has root causes in diagnosable mental disorders and substance abuse. (“Sin” does not qualify for the DSM-5.) The cultural meaning of suicide in Japan is different. It’s viewed as a selfless, even honorable act.
The Japanese view of self-inflicted death as altruistic is more about wanting not to be a burden, rather than about fascination with mortality itself.
Then there are those who do not plan ahead, who have no close family. Their bodies leave dismal reddish-brown outlines on carpets or bedspreads when they are not found for weeks or months after death. They are victims of Japan’s epidemic of kodokushi, or “lonely deaths”: elderly people who die isolated and alone, with no one to find their bodies, let alone to come pray at their graves.
There is a difficult discussion that rarely happens among American funeral directors: viewing the embalmed body is often an unpleasant experience for the family. There are exceptions to this rule, but the immediate family is given almost no meaningful time with the body (which in all likelihood was swiftly removed after death). Before the family has time to be with their dead person and process the loss, coworkers and distant cousins arrive, and everyone is forced into a public performance of grief and humility. I wondered what it would be like if there were places like Lastel in every major city. Spaces outside the stiff, ceremonial norm, where the family can just be with the body, free from the performance required at a formal viewing. Spaces that are safe, comfortable, like home.
“Traditionally, Japanese people are concerned with the skeleton,” he explained. “They perform the kotsuage, as you know. They like the bones, they don’t want ash.” “Then what has changed?” I asked. “There are feelings that come with the bones, responsibility for the soul. Bones are real,” Masuda said. “The people who scatter the ash are trying to forget. Trying to put aside the things they don’t want to think about.” “Do you think that’s a good thing?” I asked. “I don’t think it’s a good thing. You can try to make death cleaner, but especially after the big earthquake, and with the suicide rate being very high, death has come closer. There are people who take their lives before the age of ten. People are beginning to think about death. You can’t ignore it anymore.”
Women like Doña Ana and Doña Ely represent a threat to the Catholic Church. Through magic, belief, and their ñatitas, they facilitate a direct, unmediated connection to the powers of the beyond, no male intermediary required. It reminded me of Santa Muerte, the Mexican Saint of Death, who is unapologetically female. She carries a scythe and her long robes are vividly colored, draped over her skeletal form.
We cannot single out Catholicism as the only belief system with a history of dismissing the agency of female devotees. Regardless of a woman’s more egalitarian place in modern Buddhism, the ancient scriptures tell of the Buddha encouraging his community of male monks to take trips to the charnel grounds to meditate on women’s rotting bodies. The motive of these “meditations on foulness” was to liberate a monk from his desire for women; they were, as scholar Liz Wilson calls them, “sensual stumbling blocks.” The hope was that charnel meditation would strip women of all their desirable qualities so men would realize they are merely flesh-sacks filled with blood, guts, and phlegm. The Buddha was explicit, claiming that a woman’s deception is not in her accessories, like makeup and gowns, but in her fraudulent garment of flesh, surreptitiously oozing grotesque liquids from its orifices.
Of course, these silent, decaying women of the charnel grounds were not permitted to have needs, desires, or spiritual journeys of their own to take. Wilson, again, explains that “in their role as teachers they do not utter a single word. What they have to teach is not what is on their minds but what is going on in their bodies.” The charnel corpses are mere objects, delusion-busters for men to meditate on and thus gain the status of “worthy.”
I spent the first thirty years of my life devouring animals. So why, when I die, should they not have their turn with me? Am I not an animal?
Death avoidance is not an individual failing; it’s a cultural one. Facing death is not for the faint-hearted. It is far too challenging to expect that each citizen will do so on his or her own. Death acceptance is the responsibility of all death professionals—funeral directors, cemetery managers, hospital workers. It is the responsibility of those who have been tasked with creating physical and emotional environments where safe, open interaction with death and dead bodies is possible.
At the open-air pyre in Colorado, I was held within the elegant bamboo walls, which kept mourners safe as the flames shot high. There was magic to each of these places. There was grief, unimaginable grief. But in that grief there was no shame. These were places to meet despair face to face and say, “I see you waiting there. And I feel you, strongly. But you do not demean me.” In our Western culture, where are we held in our grief? Perhaps religious spaces, churches, temples—for those who have faith. But for everyone else, the most vulnerable time in our lives is a gauntlet of awkward obstacles.
This is one of those books I was "supposed" to have read in high school. I'm fairly certain, no, I know that I would not have understood many of the messages, commentary, points had I actually read it in high school. Or college for that matter. Possibly in college, unsure.
One of the main reasons that reading in high school or college would have been better than, say, now after I have "life experience," is that literature people and critics have picked over all the ideas, all the critiques, all the arguments. Every lesson to be learned or taught has been made, meaning one needs only to read the book, and wait for someone else to tell you what to think.
Which is probably why my thoughts throughout this book were along the lines of, "JF, woman," and "JF this is the EPITOME of depression," and "Gah, someone help this woman," and "I am glad I am more self-aware than this woman," and "Oh, right, the fifties, this wasn't my world."
I summarize this book as, "Esther Greenwood is a stunningly self-centered twit." Unfair, to be sure, but come on, she leaves her friend at a party to be raped, stumbles back to her hotel drunk, a long enough stumble that she's quite sober by the end of her walk, then leaves said friend swimming in her own puke outside Esther's hotel door," and I'm supposed to connect with this character?
I mean, talk about a girl who could do with some serious gratitude journalling and expectations resetting.
Much of the book surrounds Esther judgements about everything around her, and fantasies about how things should be, and HEY THEY AREN'T THAT WAY.
Take the prison guard fantasy:
I was thinking that if I’d had the sense to go on living in that old town I might just have met this prison guard in school and married him and had a parcel of kids by now. It would be nice, living by the sea with piles of little kids and pigs and chickens, wearing what my grandmother called wash dresses, and sitting about in some kitchen with bright linoleum and fat arms, drinking pots of coffee.
Her constantly living in a made-up world, believing the grass in greener on the other side of the fence, thinking that everyone is doing better, is happier, has more, is a fundamental cause of her despression.
And, oh boy, is her depression incredibly obvious in this book. I was reading parts and just felt the Dark start ooozing into the walls around me. I promptly turned on the lights, rushed off a dozen pushups, called my mother, and switched my reading to a technical book, what with light, exercise, community, and meaning being the best bulwark against depression.
I'd say if you're required to read it in school, there are worse books. If you're a Plath fan, have at it. If you're depressed, this book won't help, but you can see someone else's depressive thoughts, so maybe that'll be okay. If you're not in school and not depressed and not a Plath fan, this is a good commentary and insight into woman's place in the 1950's, which echoes to today.
This hotel—the Amazon—was for women only, and they were mostly girls my age with wealthy parents who wanted to be sure their daughters would be living where men couldn’t get at them and deceive them; and they were all going to posh secretarial schools like Katy Gibbs, where they had to wear hats and stockings and gloves to class, or they had just graduated from places like Katy Gibbs and were secretaries to executives and junior executives and simply hanging around in New York waiting to get married to some career man or other.
These girls looked awfully bored to me. I saw them on the sunroof, yawning and painting their nails and trying to keep up their Bermuda tans, and they seemed bored as hell. I talked with one of them, and she was bored with yachts and bored with flying around in airplanes and bored with skiing in Switzerland...
Girls like that make me sick. I’m so jealous I can’t speak.
Jay Cee wanted to teach me something, all the old ladies I ever knew wanted to teach me something, but I suddenly didn’t think they had anything to teach me.
So great to know everything. The older I get, the less I know, but, hey, you go, you nineteen year old you.
My dream was someday ordering a drink and finding out it tasted wonderful.
I understand this dream!
Every so often Lenny and Doreen would bang into each other and kiss and then swing back to take a long drink and close in on each other again. I thought I might just lie down on the bearskin and go to sleep until Doreen felt ready to go back to the hotel. Then Lenny gave a terrible roar. I sat up. Doreen was hanging on to Lenny’s left earlobe with her teeth. “Leggo, you bitch!” Lenny stooped, and Doreen went flying up on to his shoulder, and her glass sailed out of her hand in a long, wide arc and fetched up against the pine paneling with a silly tinkle. Lenny was still roaring and whirling round so fast I couldn’t see Doreen’s face.
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”
I felt if I carried Doreen across the threshold into my room and helped her onto my bed I would never get rid of her again.
I started to lower Doreen gently onto the green hall carpet, but she gave a low moan and pitched forward out of my arms. A jet of brown vomit flew from her mouth and spread in a large puddle at my feet.
I made a decision about Doreen that night. I decided I would watch her and listen to what she said, but deep down I would have nothing at all to do with her. Deep down, I would be loyal to Betsy and her innocent friends. It was Betsy I resembled at heart.
My mid-read note went something like, "okay, so, she convinces her friend to go with this guy, leaves said friend to be raped, then ignores the friend when she returns. good friend, you."
In New York we had so many free luncheons with people on the magazine and various visiting celebrities I developed the habit of running my eye down those huge handwritten menus, where a tiny side dish of peas cost fifty or sixty cents, until I’d picked the richest, most expensive dishes and ordered a string of them.
I’d discovered, after a lot of extreme apprehension about what spoons to use, that if you do something incorrect at table with a certain arrogance, as if you knew perfectly well you were doing it properly, you can get away with it and nobody will think you are bad-mannered or poorly brought up. They will think you are original and very witty.
I told Doreen I would not go to the show or the luncheon or the film première, but that I would not go to Coney Island either, I would stay in bed. After Doreen left, I wondered why I couldn’t go the whole way doing what I should any more. This made me sad and tired. Then I wondered why I couldn’t go the whole way doing what I shouldn’t, the way Doreen did, and this made me even sadder and more tired.
Hooboy, hello, depression.
I tried to imagine what it would be like if I were Ee Gee, the famous editor, in an office full of potted rubber plants and African violets my secretary had to water each morning. I wished I had a mother like Jay Cee. Then I’d know what to do.
The fantasy world hitting hard, hitting early. Guess what, most adults are guessing.
My own mother wasn’t much help. My mother had taught shorthand and typing to support us ever since my father died, and secretly she hated it and hated him for dying and leaving no money because he didn’t trust life insurance salesmen. She was always on to me to learn shorthand after college, so I’d have a practical skill as well as a college degree. “Even the apostles were tentmakers,” she’d say. “They had to live, just the way we do.”
There I went again, building up a glamorous picture of a man who would love me passionately the minute he met me, and all out of a few prosy nothings. A duty tour of the UN and a post-UN sandwich!
Right. Lesson she needs to learn: life is lived in the mundane, not on the mountain tops.
Probably Mrs. Willard’s simultaneous interpreter would be short and ugly and I would come to look down on him in the end the way I looked down on Buddy Willard. This thought gave me a certain satisfaction.
And here we have cynicism as a defense mechanism.
The worst part of it was I couldn’t come straight out and tell him what I thought of him, because he caught TB before I could do that, and now I had to humor him along till he got well again and could take the unvarnished truth.
I can understand the telling of societal's expectation of the female's handling the delicate male ego.
I hate handing over money to people for doing what I could just as easily do myself, it makes me nervous.
Let's bring it back around again and discuss how spending money is a psychological loss, and yes, hurts.
I was surprised to hear this, because of all the blind dates I’d had that year not one called me up again for a second date. I just didn’t have any luck. I hated coming downstairs sweaty-handed and curious every Saturday night and having some senior introduce me to her aunt’s best friend’s son and finding some pale, mushroomy fellow with protruding ears or buck teeth or a bad leg. I didn’t think I deserved it. After all, I wasn’t crippled in any way, I just studied too hard, I didn’t know when to stop.
"Studied too hard."
That's self-rationalization for "is a judgmental ass."
I started out by dressing in a white coat and sitting on a tall stool in a room with four cadavers, while Buddy and his friends cut them up. These cadavers were so unhuman-looking they didn’t bother me a bit. They had stiff, leathery, purple-black skin and they smelt like old pickle jars. After that, Buddy took me out into a hall where they had some big glass bottles full of babies that had died before they were born. The baby in the first bottle had a large white head bent over a tiny curled-up body the size of a frog. The baby in the next bottle was bigger and the baby next to that one was bigger still and the baby in the last bottle was the size of a normal baby and he seemed to be looking at me and smiling a little piggy smile. I was quite proud of the calm way I stared at all these gruesome things. The only time I jumped was when I leaned my elbow on Buddy’s cadaver’s stomach to watch him dissect a lung. After a minute or two I felt this burning sensation in my elbow and it occurred to me the cadaver might just be half alive since it was still warm, so I leapt off my stool with a small exclamation. Then Buddy explained the burning was only from the pickling fluid, and I sat back in my old position.
This amused me, as I was reading Stiff around the same time.
I was so busy thinking how very fat he was and how unfortunate it must be for a man and especially a young man to be fat, because what woman could stand leaning over that big stomach to kiss him, that I didn’t immediately realize what this student had said to me was an insult.
Did I mention judgmental? How about superficial?
“You oughtn’t to see this,” Will muttered in my ear. “You’ll never want to have a baby if you do. They oughtn’t to let women watch. It’ll be the end of the human race.”
Well, amen. Heaven forbid women actually know what's going to happen. You know what, they still do it even when they do know.
Later Buddy told me the woman was on a drug that would make her forget she’d had any pain and that when she swore and groaned she really didn’t know what she was doing because she was in a kind of twilight sleep. I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn’t groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.
I had always imagined myself hitching up on to my elbows on the delivery table after it was all over—dead white, of course, with no makeup and from the awful ordeal, but smiling and radiant, with my hair down to my waist, and reaching out for my first little squirmy child and saying its name, whatever it was.
Here is what society wants us to believe about childbirth.
“Tell me about it.” I combed my hair slowly over and over, feeling the teeth of the comb dig into my cheek at every stroke. “Who was it?”
Buddy seemed relieved I wasn’t angry. He even seemed relieved to have somebody to tell about how he was seduced.
How he was seduced.. Uh huh.
Back at college I started asking a senior here and a senior there what they would do if a boy they knew suddenly told them he’d slept thirty times with some slutty waitress one summer, smack in the middle of knowing them. But these seniors said most boys were like that and you couldn’t honestly accuse them of anything until you were at least pinned or engaged to be married.
I had never heard Buddy so upset. He was very proud of his perfect health and was always telling me it was psychosomatic when my sinuses blocked up and I couldn’t breathe. I thought this an odd attitude for a doctor to have and perhaps he should study to be a psychiatrist instead, but of course I never came right out and said so.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
It gave all the reasons a girl shouldn’t sleep with anybody but her husband and then only after they were married. The main point of the article was that a man’s world is different from a woman’s world and a man’s emotions are different from a woman’s emotions and only marriage can bring the two worlds and the two different sets of emotions together properly. My mother said this was something a girl didn’t know about till it was too late, so she had to take the advice of people who were already experts, like a married woman. This woman lawyer said the best men wanted to be pure for their wives, and even if they weren’t pure, they wanted to be the ones to teach their wives about sex. Of course they would try to persuade a girl to have sex and say they would marry her later, but as soon as she gave in, they would lose all respect for her and start saying that if she did that with them she would do that with other men and they would end up by making her life miserable. The woman finished her article by saying better be safe than sorry and besides, there was no sure way of not getting stuck with a baby and then you’d really be in a pickle. Now the one thing this article didn’t seem to me to consider was how a girl felt.
And then I wondered if as soon as he came to like me he would sink into ordinariness, and if as soon as he came to love me I would find fault after fault, the way I did with Buddy Willard and the boys before him. The same thing happened over and over: I would catch sight of some flawless man off in the distance, but as soon as he moved closer I immediately saw he wouldn’t do at all.
And I knew that in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard’s kitchen mat.
So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state.
He didn’t answer but reached over and put his hand at the root of my hair and ran his fingers out slowly to the tip ends like a comb. A little electric shock flared through me and I sat quite still. Ever since I was small I loved feeling somebody comb my hair. It made me go all sleepy and peaceful.
“Remember how you asked me where I like to live best, the country or the city?”
“And you said …”
“And I said I wanted to live in the country and in the city both?” Buddy nodded.
“And you,” I continued with a sudden force, “laughed and said I had the perfect setup of a true neurotic"
And yet, is completely doable, and has been done for centuries. Hello, country estate in the weekends. Hello, Hamptons. Hello, Sonoma.
But the rope dragged me, wobbling and balancing, so rapidly I couldn’t hope to dissociate myself from it halfway. There was a skier in front of me and a skier behind me, and I’d have been knocked over and stuck full of skis and poles the minute I let go, and I didn’t want to make trouble, so I hung quietly on.
I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.
“Honestly,” Doreen said, “this one’ll be different.”
It was becoming more and more difficult for me to decide to do anything in those last days. And when I eventually did decide to do something, such as packing a suitcase, I only dragged all my grubby, expensive clothes out of the bureau and the closet and spread them on the chairs and the bed and the floor and then sat and stared at them, utterly perplexed. They seemed to have a separate, mulish identity of their own that refused to be washed and folded and stowed.
How is this not the epitome of depressive behavior?
A woman not five feet tall, with a grotesque, protruding stomach, was wheeling an old black baby carriage down the street. Two or three small children of various sizes, all pale, with smudgy faces and bare smudgy knees, wobbled along in the shadow of her skirts.
Even six was considered excessive, but then, everybody said, of course Dodo was a Catholic.
Children made me sick.
I crawled back into bed and pulled the sheet over my head.
This is called depression. Melancholy if you must.
But even that didn’t shut out the light, so I buried my head under the darkness of the pillow and pretended it was night. I couldn’t see the point of getting up.
I reached for the receiver. My hand advanced a few inches, then retreated and fell limp. I forced it toward the receiver again, but again it stopped short, as if it had collided with a pane of glass. I wandered into the dining room.
This surprised me. I had always looked down on my mother’s college, as it was coed, and filled with people who couldn’t get scholarships to the big eastern colleges.
It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next.
I had imagined a kind, ugly, intuitive man looking up and saying “Ah!” in an encouraging way, as if he could see something I couldn’t, and then I would find words to tell him how I was so scared, as if I were being stuffed farther and farther into a black, airless sack with no way out. Then he would lean back in his chair and match the tips of his fingers together in a little steeple and tell me why I couldn’t sleep and why I couldn’t read and why I couldn’t eat and why everything people did seemed so silly, because they only died in the end. And then, I thought, he would help me, step by step, to be myself again.
“I’m through with that Doctor Gordon,” I said, after we had left Dodo and her black station wagon behind the pines. “You can call him up and tell him I’m not coming next week.”
My mother smiled. “I knew my baby wasn’t like that.”
I looked at her. “Like what?”
“Like those awful people. Those awful dead people at that hospital.” She paused. “I knew you’d decide to be all right again.”
Oh, Esther's mom, depression doesn't work like that.
My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you, so Teresa had arranged for me to sign on as a volunteer at our local hospital.
The earth seemed friendly under my bare feet, but cold. I wondered how long it had been since this particular square of soil had seen the sun.
I wonder this frequently when I pull up cement, or see streets torn up in Paris.
I hate saying anything to a group of people. When I talk to a group of people I always have to single out one and talk to him, and all the while I am talking I feel the others are peering at me and taking unfair advantage. I also hate people to ask cheerfully how you are when they know you’re feeling like hell and expect you to say “Fine.”
“He folded his hands together and looked at me and said, ‘Miss Gilling, we have decided that you would benefit by group therapy.”
“Group therapy?” I thought I must sound phony as an echo chamber, but Joan didn’t pay any notice.
“That’s what he said. Can you imagine me wanting to kill myself, and coming round to chat about it with a whole pack of strangers, and most of them no better than myself….”
“That’s crazy.” I was growing involved in spite of myself. “That’s not even human.”
I laughed at this. Definitely not even human.
I thought if they left me alone I might have some peace. My mother was the worst. She never scolded me, but kept begging me, with a sorrowful face, to tell her what she had done wrong. She said she was sure the doctors thought she had done something wrong because they asked her a lot of questions about my toilet training, and I had been perfectly trained at a very early age and given her no trouble whatsoever.
I had gone to bed right after supper, but then I heard the piano music and pictured Joan and DeeDee and Loubelle, the blonde woman, and the rest of them, laughing and gossiping about me in the living room behind my back.
“I don’t see what women see in other women,” I told Doctor Nolan in my interview that noon. “What does a woman see in a woman that she can’t see in a man?”
Doctor Nolan paused. Then she said, “Tenderness.”
That shut me up.
I thought how lucky it was I had started practicing birth control during the day, because in my winey state that night I would never have bothered to perform the delicate and necessary operation. I lay, rapt and naked, on Irwin’s rough blanket, waiting for the miraculous change to make itself felt.
And hadn’t Buddy said, as if to revenge himself for my digging out the car and his having to stand by, “I wonder who you’ll marry now, Esther.”
“What?” I’d said, shoveling snow up onto a mound and blinking against the stinging backshower of loose flakes.
“I wonder who you’ll marry now, Esther. Now you’ve been,” and Buddy’s gesture encompassed the hill, the pines and the severe, snow-gabled buildings breaking up the rolling landscape, “here.”
F--- off, fifties era people who believe that depression is a death-knell, that getting help means you're damaged goods. F--- off anyone who believe that depression means you're a lesser person.
Okay, this was a delightful, fast read.
Set in the Peter Grant / Rivers of London universe, we have Tobias Winter as the sole practitioner investigator in Germany, Deutschland's equivalent of Peter Grant, called into a suspicious death. He is partnered with Vanessa Sommer, an enthusiastic (and normal) investigator local to Trier, in solving the case.
Yes, I, too, was delighted by the summer and winter pairing.
The book is a quick read, what, being book 7.5 of the Rivers of London series, a novella. The "short" story (long story, but shorter than a novel) is a delightful way to both introduce new characters into the series (we're sure to see Toby in the Peter books soon), and to expand the world building.
That the murder had elements of wine making made it more entertaining.
I enjoyed the book. If you're a Ben Aaronovitch or Rivers of London fan, definitely keep reading.
‘“The wrong case’ isn’t about danger. You only have to spend a couple of nights with Traffic to know that anybody can die suddenly,” said Stefan, proving once again that he was the joyful heart of any social event.
Jacqueline Stracker gave us the traditional look of weary outrage that you always get from someone who thinks they don’t have time for this shit—whatever this shit happens to be.
Vanessa made a strange inarticulate sound common to Germans who’ve figured out how to start a sentence but don’t know how it ends.
As police you can live with the violence, the squalor and the stupidity—it’s the waste of people’s futures that really grinds you down.
“I don’t think the drinking club would have lasted much longer,” said Vanessa, as I wrestled with the total lack of a proper slotted spatula and had to turn my steaks with a wooden scraper instead.
He was obviously one of those people who basically ignore the parts of the world that don’t interest him.
I found this book on the recommended table at Indigos a couple weeks ago, finding it available at the library that evening, and started reading with what I thought would be enough time to read leisurely.
I wasn't correct on the leisurely, as the book read more slowly than I expected it to read. Some books are like that: the writing fits into your brain and the words read easily. I believe Stephen King's works are like this, which is a good reason his books are so popular. Sometimes the books are not like that: the writing feels wrong, is slow going, requires a shift in the reader's brain to accommodate the words. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke was one of these books. The Septimus Heap books were also like that. This one is like that, too.
But, hooboy, Gordievsky's story? WOW!
That the book is non-fiction is even more WOW!
Who says one man can't change the world? We keep seeing evidence of one man being able to change the world and in a positive direction.
Gordievsky was a KGB agent who saw how Communism doesn't work as a political structure. There are ebbs and flows in the levels of freedom, with Communism being so far on the authoritarian scale as to be ultimately unsustainable, and Gordievsky saw this. Disagreeing with the lack of personal freedoms in his country, he worked to reduce its strength.
He didn't take it down, but he did affect things in very large, very positive ways, and for that, we thank him.
It's odd to read history with a happy ending, tbh. There were a number of recollection quotes early in the book that indicated Gordievsky lives through his ordeal, but I still needed to read his Wikipedia page to skip to the end (yes, as I do). Gordievsky's tale is worth reading on more than a Wikipedia page.
“The Party was God,” his son later wrote, and the older Gordievsky never wavered in his devotion, even when his faith demanded that he take part in unspeakable crimes.
In Stalin’s paranoid police state, the safest way to ensure survival was to denounce someone else. “Better that ten innocent people should suffer than one spy get away,” said Nikolai Yezhov, chief of the NKVD.
With a peasant’s ingrained common sense, she understood the caprice and vindictiveness of state terror, but kept her mouth shut.
But the head of Directorate S declined to let him go, with the pettiness typical of a boss determined to retain a member of staff just because another boss has tried to poach him.
From now on Oleg Gordievsky would live two distinct and parallel lives, both secret, and at war with each other. And the moment of commitment came with the special force that was central to his character: an adamantine, unshakable conviction that what he was doing was unequivocally right, a whole-souled moral duty that would change his life irrevocably, a righteous betrayal.
Spies come in many shapes. Some are motivated by ideology, politics, or patriotism. A surprising number act out of avarice, for the financial rewards can be alluring. Others find themselves drawn into espionage by sex, blackmail, arrogance, revenge, disappointment, or the peculiar oneupmanship and comradeship that secrecy confers. Some are principled and brave. Some are grasping and cowardly.
For Gordievsky, Leila’s gentle personality and simple sweetness seemed a tonic after Yelena’s shrewish disdain. He had become used to calculation in his human relationships, constantly assessing his own actions and words and those of others. Leila, by contrast, was natural, outgoing, and uninhibited: Oleg felt adored, for the first time in his life.
Gordievsky’s letter was his testament. I must emphasize that my decision is not the result of irresponsibility or instability of character on my part. It has been preceded by a long spiritual struggle and by agonizing emotion, and an even deeper disappointment at developments in my own country and my own experiences have brought me to the belief that democracy, and the tolerance of humanity that follows it, represents the only road for my country, which is European in spite of everything. The present regime is the antithesis of democracy to an extent which Westerners can never fully grasp. If a man realizes this, he must show
the courage of his convictions and do something himself to prevent slavery from encroaching further upon the realms of freedom.
Love often begins with an outpouring of naked truth, a passionate baring of the soul.
Lenin is often credited with coining the term “useful idiot,” poleznyi durak in Russian, meaning one who can be used to spread propaganda without being aware of it or subscribing to the goals intended by the manipulator.
The revelation that Richard Nixon had used the CIA to try to obstruct a federal investigation into the Watergate burglary in 1972 triggered a crisis within the agency and a series of investigations into its activities over the preceding twenty years. The resulting reports, known as the “Family Jewels,” identified a damning litany of illegal actions far outside the CIA’s charter, including wiretapping of journalists, burglaries, assassination plots, experimentation on humans, collusion with the Mafia, and systematic domestic surveillance of civilians.
Paranoia is born of propaganda, ignorance, secrecy, and fear.
Everyone rehearses their recollections, believing that the more often an event is remembered, the closer we come to its reality. This is not always true. Most people tell a version of the past, and then either stick to or embellish it. Gordievsky’s powers of recall were different. He was not just consistent, but progressive and accreting.
The KGB of the 1970s was clearly not what it had been a generation earlier. The ideological fervor of the 1930s, which had seen the recruitment of so many committed agents, had been replaced by a terrified conformity, which produced a very different sort of spy. It remained vast, well funded, and ruthless, and it could still call on some of the brightest and best recruits. But its ranks now also included many time servers and bootlickers, lazy careerists with little imagination. The KGB was still a dangerous antagonist, but its vulnerabilities and deficiencies were now exposed.
Early in 1981, the KGB carried out an analysis of the geopolitical situation, using a newly developed computer program, and concluded that “the correlation of world forces” was moving in favor of the West. Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was proving costly, Cuba was draining Soviet funds, the CIA was launching aggressive covert action against the USSR, and the US was undergoing a major military buildup: the Soviet Union seemed to be losing the Cold War, and, like a boxer exhausted by long years of sparring, the Kremlin feared that a single, brutal sucker punch could end the contest.
In launching Operation RYAN, Andropov broke the first rule of intelligence: never ask for confirmation of something you already believe.
The Kremlin, however, assuming that capitalism penetrated every aspect of Western life, believed that a “blood bank” was, in fact, a bank, where blood could be bought and sold. No one in the KGB outstations dared to draw attention to this elemental misunderstanding. In a craven and hierarchical organization, the only thing more dangerous than revealing your own ignorance is to draw attention to the stupidity of the boss.
Almost any human behavior, if scrutinized sufficiently intensely, can begin to seem suspicious: a light left on in the Foreign Office, a parking shortage at the Ministry of Defence, a potentially bellicose bishop.
This was a business that involved heavy drinking, on both sides of the Cold War, and officers and agents frequently took refuge from the stress in the blurring of reality that alcohol can bring.
Intelligence sharing was a two-way street, but in the opinion of some CIA officers America had a right to know everything.
The cash could simply have been handed over to the illegal on arrival, but the KGB never opted for simplicity when something more elaborate could be devised. Operation GROUND was an object lesson in overcomplication.
loyalty? In all totalitarian cultures, the individual is encouraged to consider the interests of society before personal welfare: from Nazi Germany to Communist Russia to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and North Korea today, a willingness to betray those nearest to you for the greater good was the ultimate mark of committed citizenship and ideological purity.
The decision to leave his family behind was either an act of monumental self-sacrifice, or one of selfish self-preservation, or both. He told himself he had no choice, which is what we all tell ourselves when forced to make a terrible choice.
There is no evidence, however, that the surveillance team did this on the morning of July 20. Instead, they seem to have done what timeservers do in every autocracy that punishes honest failure: they did nothing at all, and hoped the problem would go away.
“I had been under surveillance for years, and we had got to know the way the KGB Seventh Directorate thought. While they often knew that you knew they were around, what really offended and embarrassed them was when someone deliberately indicated that he had spotted them: psychologically, no surveillance team likes to be shown up by its target as obvious and incompetent. They hate you putting two fingers up, and saying in effect: ‘We know you are there and we know what you’re up to.’ ” On principle, Ascot always ignored surveillance, however overt. Now, for the first time, he broke his own rule.
Oh, this is such a lovely book.
Based on the title, we know it is a book dealing with time travel (else why have a time war?). There's the briefest of adjustments in the beginning with the world building, and then we see that while the book is science fiction with two sides having agents who skip through time lines adjusting a world here, changing an action there, in order to shape the future into each side's desired outcome, and then we arrive at the heart of the tale, which is a love story.
The ending of the book is so beautiful that one wants to (and should) immediately flip back to the beginning of the book and read it again, pick up the details missed in the first reading, understand where the threads twist and cross. The different elements of history woven into the story make the story that much more beautiful.
Thoroughly enjoyed the book. Strongly recommended.
But wars are dense with causes and effects, calculations and strange attractors, and all the more so are wars in time. One spared life might be worth more to the other side than all the blood that stained Red’s hands today. A fugitive becomes a queen or a scientist or, worse, a poet. Or her child does, or a smuggler she trades jackets with in some distant spaceport. And all this blood for nothing.
Killing gets easier with practice, in mechanics and technique. Having killed never does, for Red. Her fellow agents do not feel the same, or they hide it better.
"If train A leaves Toronto at six p.m. travelling east at one hundred kilometres per hour, and train B leaves Ottawa at seven p.m. travelling west at one hundred twenty kilometres per hour, when will they cross?”
Nearly always amused when an Ottawa reference pops up in a book.
They drag the logs to camp. They split them, trim them, plane them, frame them into engines of war. Two weeks later, the planks lie shattered around the fallen walls of a city still burning, still weeping. Progress gallops on, and blood remains behind.
Some days Blue wonders why anyone ever bothered making numbers so small ; other days she supposes even infinity needs to start somewhere.
Eating’s gross, isn’t it? In the abstract, I mean. When you’re used to hyperspace recharging stations, to sunlight and cosmic rays, when most of the beauty you’ve known lies in a great machine’s heart, it’s hard to see the appeal of using bones that poke from spit - coated gums to mash things that grew in dirt into a paste that will fit down the wet tube connecting your mouth to the sack of acid under your heart.
But I enjoy eating these days. More of us do than care to admit it publicly. I revel in it, as one only revels in pursuits one does not need. The runner enjoys running when she need not flee a lion. Sex improves when decoupled — sorry — from animalist procreative desperation (or even from the desperation of not having had sex in a while, as I’ve had cause to note after my recent two decades ’ sojourn and attendant dry spell).
Humans need marks to strive for — but imperfect systems decay. So we build them ideals. Change agents climb upthread, find helpful strands, preserve what matters, and let what doesn’t fall to dust : mulch for the more perfect future’s seed.
Fortunately, geniuses understand that young men are often fools.
So the great-grand-emperor’s word goes out, and so a port is built, and sailors flock, beckoned by adventure. (Adventure works in any strand — it calls to those who care more for living than for their lives.)
She stained the page with herself. She sometimes forgets what she wrote, save that it was true, and the writing hurt. But butterfly wings break when touched. Red knows her own weaknesses as well as anyone. She presses too hard, breaks what she would embrace, tears what she would touch to her teeth.
I wish I could have shown you where I’m from, hand in hand, the world I set out to build and to protect — I don’t think you would have liked it, but I want to see it reflected in your eyes. I wish I could have seen your braid, and I wish we could have left all those horror shows behind and found one together, for ourselves.
That’s all I want now. A small place, a dog, green grass. To touch your hand. To run my fingers through your hair.
The tears have anger in them at first, but anger burns out fast. Tears stay.
She has lost all the subtlety Blue ever teased her for lacking, her old competitive patience for a good officer’s work. She abandons her tools, retreats to the grossest physical foundations. Winning this battle, losing that, strangling that old evil man in a bathtub in his skyscraper penthouse, feels empty because it is : In the war they wage through time, what lasting advantage comes from murdering ghosts, who, with a slight shift of threads, will return to life or live different lives that never bring them to the executioner’s blade? Repetitive task, murder. Kill them and kill them again, like weeds, all the little monsters.
No death sticks but the one that matters.
She cannot stop herself from reaching out, from trying with a touch to say, I’m here. Sometimes you have to hold a person, though they’ll mistake embrace for strangulation.
Red may be mad, but to die for madness is to die for something.
Again, for the 100th+ time, I need to write down why a book is on my to-read pile. Where was this one recommended? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I'd guess Book Riot or micro.blog.
Anyway, the basic premise is that there is a chain of kidnapped children. Once a child has been kidnapped, she / he will be returned only if a ransom is paid and the ransomee kidnaps another child and repeats the instructions, inflicts the same mental anguish, on the next family. While the kidnapped person is nearly always a child, according to the rules, the loved one to be kidnapped could be an adult. In reality you can count on a mother's love for her child FAR MORE than a partner's love for their partner, so children are "better" targets to keep the chain going.
The psychological thriller part of the idea is the progression of victim to perpetrator, that to save one's child, one must inflict the same pain on another family. The book does an okay job of conveying the mental torture of how awful this would be, to have a belief about yourself, that you are a good person who would never do these things, and yet, here you are, doing these exact horrible things. There is absolutely no good way through what would be an absolutely horrible situation, if this were real. The mental scars would be around for a long, long time, which the second half of the book tries to portray, also doing an okay job.
That none of it leaked, despite going on for six years in a relatively small area (New England) strains the reader's suspension disbelief, unless said reader realizes that, eh, there is a lot of random shit that happens to good people, and no reason that people on the other side of the world / country / state would necessarily know about it. 50+ kidnapped kids a year, ehhhhhh, could happen.
If you're a fan of McKinty's writing, definitely read the book. If you like quick-paced, fast read, somewhat unbelievable psychological thrillers, this could also be a good read. It was waaaaaay better than The Woman in Cabin 10, if you want to use that as a reference point.
The Egyptians thought the afterlife was located in the stars. But there is no afterlife, is there? Grandma believes in the afterlife but nobody else does. It doesn’t make any sense, does it? If they kill you, you’re just dead and that’s that. And maybe a hundred years from now, they find your body in the woods and nobody even remembers who you were or that you’d gone missing.
“Rachel O’Neill, as I live and breathe,” he says with a grin. “Oh, Rachel, why do birds suddenly appear every time that you’re near?”
Because they’re actually carrion crows and I’m one of the goddamn undead, she thinks but doesn’t say.
There are a breathtaking number of people whose profiles and posts are public and can be viewed by anyone. George Orwell was wrong, she thinks. In the future, it won’t be the state that keeps tabs on everyone by extensive use of surveillance; it will be the people. They’ll do the state’s work for it by constantly uploading their locations, interests, food preferences, restaurant choices, political ideas, and hobbies to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites. We are our own secret police.
“Helen seems the type to brag about using that system to find her kids, but she hasn’t mentioned it,” Rachel says, surprising herself with the bitterness of this observation. She remembers that Tacitus line about how you always hate those you have wronged. Or those you are about to wrong in this case.
Rachel puts her hand on his chest and feels his heart beating. Calm, slow, deliberate. He has three tattoos: an ouroboros serpent, the Marine Corps logo, and the Roman numeral V. “What’s the V stand for?” she asks. “Five combat tours.” “The ouroboros?” “To remind myself that there ain’t nothing new under the sun. People have survived worse.”
"Recall that one builds a labyrinth not to hide but to lie in wait.”
Every choice she has is a bad one. Action is bad. Inaction is bad. It is a classic zugzwang situation. You have parachuted into the minefield and there is no safe way out.
“Either of you ever done any kriging or matrix programming or regression analysis?” he asks. “Kriging?” Rachel asks, wondering what the hell he’s talking about. “It’s a Gaussian-process regression. A tool for statistical analysis. No?” Pete and Rachel shake their heads. He taps the table number. “The number seventy-three means what to you?” “John Hannah, offensive lineman for the Pats,” Pete says quickly. “Gary Sanchez briefly wore number seventy-three when he first came up with the Yanks,” Rachel says. The man shakes his head. “What does it mean to you?” Rachel asks. “It is the twenty-first prime number. The number twenty-one has prime factors seven and three. A pleasing coincidence. Table seventy-seven is also free over there. It’s not prime, of course, but it is the sum of the first eight prime numbers and the atomic number of iridium. Iridium is how they finally proved what killed the dinosaurs, which was the big mystery when I was a kid. The iridium-marker layer in the K-T boundary. Atomic number seventy-seven was the harbinger of death for the dinosaurs. It’s an ending number. All books should end on the seventy-seventh chapter. They never do, though. But we’re beginning something here, aren’t we? Hence table seventy-three, which is a little more appropriate than seventy-seven, yes?” Rachel and Pete look at him in utter bafflement. He sighs. “All right. Mathematics is not your forte, I see.
She turns on Erik’s app. It has downloaded successfully but when she tries to open it, a message flashes on the phone’s home screen: For this app to work you need to enter the next number in this sequence: 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 20…If you enter the wrong number your phone will be locked and all devices associated with your account will be disabled for twenty-four hours.
She picks up the phone and types in 23.
“I always thought that if we were going to go down, it would be because of you tangling emotions with business.” She smiles. “Christ, Olly, that’s how everybody goes down in the end. Didn’t you know that? You can’t fight biology.” “You can try,” he says.
This is book 1 in the MurderBot Diaries, and it is a fun read. I've had it in my to-read pile for a long while now, arriving there from a recommendation on microblog.
I found the book particularly amusing in that Murderbot, who is a construct with mechanical (robot) and organic (human) parts fused together to have essentially a controllable super-human, thoroughly reminded me of an acquaintance I have. Said acquaintance is very literal, doesn't give a shit about most things, is straight-forward about nearly everything, and really just wants to be left alone.
Kinda like the Murderbot.
In this first of the series, we have world building, where we understand what the Murderbot is, learn a bit about its history (it went haywire and killed a crew), and come to understand the broad strokes of its personality. It is hard not to sympathize with the Murderbot, even as it is, well, a Murderbot.
Love Wells' writing, and am eagerly anticipating reading the next three books in the series. Strongly recommended (bonus: it's a fast read).
“All right,” she said, and looked at me for what objectively I knew was 2.4 seconds and subjectively about twenty excruciating minutes.
It was a low-stress group, they didn’t argue much or antagonize each other for fun, and were fairly restful to be around, as long as they didn’t try to talk or interact with me in any way.
I also checked to make sure both the big hopper and the little hopper had their full complement of emergency supplies. I packed them in there myself days ago, but I was mainly checking to make sure the humans hadn’t done anything stupid with them since the last time I checked.
WE GOT READY to leave at the beginning of the day cycle, in the morning light,
There was a nice box of new ones, but they were useless without the DeltFall HubSystem. Either it was really dead or doing a good imitation of it. I still kept part of my attention on it; if it came up suddenly and reactivated the security cameras, the rules of the game would change abruptly.
Nervously, Ratthi said, “What do we do when they come here?” I said, “Be somewhere else.”
It may seem weird that Mensah was the only human to think of abandoning the habitat while we waited for the beacon to bring help, but as I said before, these weren’t intrepid galactic explorers. They were people who had been doing a job and suddenly found themselves in a terrible situation.
As opposed to the reality, which was that I was one whole confused entity, with no idea what I wanted to do. What I should do. What I needed to do.
I’d left one drone in a tree with a long-range view of the habitat, one tucked under the extendable roof over the entrance, and one inside the hub, hidden under a console. They were on the next setting to inert, recording only, so when EvilSurvey scanned, the drones would be buried in the ambient energy readings from the habitat’s environmental system.
It’s an elected position, with a limited term. But one of the principles of our home is that our admins must also continue their regular work, whatever it is.
Can you imagine?
I wanted to go alone, but since nobody ever listens to me, Mensah, Pin-Lee, and Ratthi were going, too.
It’s one thing to poke a murderbot with a governor module; poking a rogue murderbot is a whole different proposition.
He finally said, “You don’t blame humans for what you were forced to do? For what happened to you?” This is why I’m glad I’m not human. They come up with stuff like this. I said, “No. That’s a human thing to do. Constructs aren’t that stupid.”
Maybe it would work out. This was what I was supposed to want. This was what everything had always told me I was supposed to want. Supposed to want.
So, apparently my count is off and this is book 12 of the Harry Hole series. Reading most of the reviews, only one gave away the major plot point (there's always one major murder to be solved or serial killer to be caught), even though the jacket blurb gives away the major plot once you know what it is, so, yeah, skipping that detail.
So, uh, I'll say, there's a murder, Harry is a suspect, he's cleared, he goes to track down the murderer.
What is terribly brilliant about the book is how so many details from previous books, some returning characters, and some half-answered questions all cascade into this one's plot. The pieces all fit together, leaving the reader to go, "Huh."
And the actual murderer?
Did. Not. See. That. Coming.
As much as I disliked the first book that I read in the series (which I read out of order), I really like these last few Harry Hole books. I'm unsure if the book could be read stand-alone, tbh. That said, if you're a fan, of course read this one, HF read this one. If you're not a fan, become one, start at book one, The Bat.
Harry had seen it in other cases, the way that someone left behind struggled with grief as if it were an enemy, an irritating nuisance that needed to be cajoled and tricked. And one way of doing that was to downplay the loss, to discredit the dead.
But happiness is like heroin; once you’ve tasted it, once you’ve found out that happiness exists, you will never be entirely happy with an ordinary life without happiness again. Because happiness is something more than mere satisfaction. Happiness isn’t natural. Happiness is a trembling, exceptional state; seconds, minutes, days that you know simply can’t last. And sorrow at its absence doesn’t come afterwards, but at the same time. Because with happiness comes the terrible insight that nothing can be the same again, that you are already missing what you have, you’re worrying about the withdrawal pangs, grief at the loss, cursing the awareness of what you are capable of feeling.
“I don’t know yet.”
“But…” Oleg didn’t get any further, and Harry knew there was no continuation to that all-encompassing “but.” It was just an instinctive objection, a self-sustaining protest, a rejection of the possibility that things could be the way they actually were. An echo of his own “but…” in Katrine Bratt’s office twenty-five minutes ago.
Investigation, he thought. This is an investigation. I’m dreaming, but I can do an investigation in my sleep. It’s just a matter of doing it properly, getting it going, and I won’t wake up. As long as I’m not awake, it isn’t true.
So Harry did it properly, he didn’t look directly at the sun, at the body he knew was lying on the floor between the kitchen and living-room areas. The sun—that, even if it hadn’t been Rakel—would blind him if he stared straight at it. The sight of a body does something to your senses even if you’re an experienced murder detective; it overwhelms them to a greater or lesser extent, numbs them and makes them less sensitive to other, less violent impressions, all the small details of a crime scene that can tell you something.
“Do you know, you’re showing all the classic signs of PTSD?”
Harry stared at her. “Post-traumatic stress disorder,” Kaja said.
“I know what it is.”
“Great. But do you know what the symptoms are?”
Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Repeated experience of the trauma. Dreams, flashbacks. Limited emotional response. You become a zombie. You feel like a zombie, an outsider on happy pills, flat and with no desire to live any longer than necessary. The world feels unreal, your sensation of time changes. As a defense mechanism you fragment the trauma, only remember specific details, but keep them apart so the whole experience and context remain in the dark.”
Kaja nodded. “Don’t forget hyperactivity. Anxiety, depression. Irritability and aggressiveness. Problems sleeping. How come you know so much about it?”
“Our resident psychologist has talked me through it.”
“Ståle Aune? And he thought you didn’t have PTSD?”
“Well, he didn’t rule it out. But on the other hand, I’ve had those symptoms since I was a teenager.”
Life as a dance performed by mayflies. You stand in a room full of testosterone and perfume, moving your feet in time to the music and smiling at the prettiest one because you think she’s meant for you. Until you ask her to dance and she says no and looks over your shoulder at the other guy, the guy who isn’t you. Then, once you’ve patched up your broken heart, you adjust your expectations and ask the next prettiest to dance. Then the third. Until you get to the one who says yes.
And if you’re lucky, and you dance well together, you ask her for the next dance as well. And the next. Until the evening is over and you ask if she wants to spend eternity with you.
“Yes, darling, but we’re mayflies,” she says, and dies.
She hated those “influential women” gatherings anyway. Not because she didn’t support the cause, not because she didn’t think that true equality was something worth fighting for, but because she couldn’t summon up the forced sisterly solidarity and emotional rhetoric. Occasionally she felt like telling them to shut up and stick to asking for equal opportunities and equal pay for equal work. Sure, a change was long overdue, and not only when it came to direct sexual harassment, but also the indirect and often intangible sexual-control tactics men used. But that mustn’t be allowed to rise to the top of the agenda and draw attention away from what equality was really about. Women would only harm themselves yet again if they prioritised hurt feelings over the size of their pay packets. Because only better wages, more economic power, would make them invulnerable.
Harry felt a different type of rage hit him. The cold sort, the sort that made him calm. And crazy. Which he had feared might come, and which mustn’t be allowed to take over.
Krohn sometimes wondered what would happen when the oil ran out and the Norwegian people had to face up to the demands of the real world again. The optimist in him said things would be fine, that people adapt to new situations quicker than you think, you just had to look at countries that had been at war. The realist in him said that in a country without any tradition of innovation and advanced thinking, there would be a slippery slope straight back to where Norway had come from: the bottom division of European economies.
One of the reasons why he had never raised the subject was probably that he knew there were few things as unsexy as an insecure and chronically jealous partner.
“According to Professor Paul Mattiuzzi, most murderers fit into one of eight categories,” Harry said. “One: chronically aggressive individuals. People with poor impulse control who get easily frustrated, who resent authority, who convince themselves that violence is a legitimate response, and who deep down enjoy finding a way to express their anger. This is the type where you can see it coming.”
Harry put a cigarette between his lips.
“Two: controlled hostility. People who rarely give in to anger, who are emotionally rigid and appear polite and serious. They abide by rules and see themselves as upholders of justice. They can be kind in a way that people take advantage of. They’re simmering pressure cookers where you can’t see anything coming until they explode. The sort where the neighbours say he always seemed such a nice guy.” Harry sparked his lighter, held it to his cigarette and inhaled.
“Three: the resentful. People who feel that others walk all over them, that they never get what they deserve, that it’s other people’s fault that they haven’t succeeded in life. They bear grudges, especially against people who have criticised or reprimanded them. They assume the role of victim, they’re psychologically impotent, and when they resort to violence because they can’t find other ways to control their violence, it’s usually directed towards people they hold grudges against. Four: the traumatised.”
Harry blew smoke from his mouth and nose. “The murder is a response to a single assault on the killer’s identity that is so offensive and unbearable that it strips them of all sense of personal power. The murder is necessary if they are to protect the essence of the trauma victim’s existence or masculinity. If you’re aware of the circumstances, this type of murder can usually be both foreseen and prevented.” Harry held the cigarette between the second knuckles of his index and middle fingers as he stood reflected in the small, half-dried-up puddle framed by brown earth and grey gravel.
“Then there are the rest. Five: obsessive and immature narcissists. Six: paranoid and jealous individuals on the verge of insanity. Seven: people well past the verge of insanity.” Harry put the cigarette back between his lips and looked up. Let his eyes slide across the timber building. The crime scene. The morning sun was glinting off the windows. Nothing about the house looked different, just the degree of abandonment. [...]
“And the eighth category?” Kaja asked, wrapping her coat more tightly around her and stamping on the gravel.
“Professor Mattiuzzi calls them the ‘just plain bad and angry.’ Which is a combination of the seven others.”
So who killed R---? Someone with personality traits from one of those categories killing without any context, or a normal person killing for a reason they’ve come up with themselves?”
“Well, I think that even a crazy person needs some sort of context. Even in outbursts of rage there’s a moment when we manage to convince ourselves that we’re acting in a justifiable way. Madness is a lonely dialogue where we give ourselves the answers we want. And we’ve all had that conversation.”
Not obviously beautiful, but cute, Harry decided. Possibly what Øystein would call a Toyota: not the boys’ first choice when they were teenagers, but the one that stayed in the best shape as the years passed.
“I was jealous.”
“I hated her.”
“She hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“That was probably why.” Kaja laughed. “You left me because of her, that’s all the reason a woman needs to hate someone, Harry.”
“I didn’t leave you, Kaja. You and I were two people with broken hearts who were able to comfort each other for a while. And when I left Oslo, I was running away from both of you.”
“But you said you loved her. And when you came back to Oslo the second time, it was because of her, not me.”
“It was because of Oleg, he was in trouble. But yes, I always loved Rakel.”
“Even when she didn’t want you?”
“Especially when she didn’t want me. That seems to be how we’re made, doesn’t it?”
“Love’s complicated,” she said, curling up closer and laying her head on his chest.
“Love’s the root of everything,” Harry said. “Good and bad. Good and evil.”
Success, the good life, age, they all made even the angriest of people more conciliatory. The way they had with Harry, making him milder, kinder. Almost sociable. Happily tamed by a woman he loved in a marriage that worked. Not perfect. Well, fuck it, as perfect as anyone could bear.
That was ten hours ago now, and his brain had spent those hours frantically searching for an answer, for a way out, for alternatives to the only explanation he could think of, skittering hither and thither like a rat below deck on a sinking ship, finding nothing but closed doors and dead ends as the water rose higher and higher towards the ceiling. And that half of his heart was beating faster and faster, as if it knew what was coming. Knew it was going to have to speed up if it was going to have time to use up the two billion heartbeats the average human life was made up of. Because he had woken up now. Had woken up, and was going to die.
During the course of some of those investigations, Ståle Aune had guided Harry through the most common motives for suicide. From the infantile—revenge on the world, now-you’ll-be-sorry—through self-loathing, shame, pain, guilt, loss, all the way to the “small” motive—people who saw suicide as a comfort, a consolation. Who weren’t seeking an escape route, but just liked knowing it was there, the way a lot of people live in big cities because they offer everything from opera to strip clubs that they never think of making use of. Something to fend off the claustrophobia of being alive, of living. But then, in an unbalanced moment, prompted by drink, pills, romantic or financial problems, they take a decision, as heedless of the consequences as having another drink or punching a bartender, because the consolation thought has become the only thought.
Madsen’s experience told him that what he was engaged in, trauma-based cognitive therapy, helped. It wasn’t the acute crisis therapy that had been so popular until research showed that it didn’t work at all, but long-term treatment in which the client worked through the trauma and gradually learned to tackle and live with their physical responses. Because believing that there was a quick fix, that you could heal those wounds overnight, was naive and, at worst, dangerous.
“Free. I felt free. Killing someone was like crossing some sort of border. You think there’s a fence, some sort of wall, but when you cross it you realise that it’s just a line someone’s drawn on a map.
“I crucified him so he could take on my suffering, the way we did with Jesus. Because Jesus didn’t put himself on the cross, we hung him up there, that’s the whole point. We achieved salvation and eternal life by killing Jesus. God couldn’t do much, God didn’t sacrifice his son. If it’s true that God gave us free will, then we killed Jesus against God’s will. And the day we realise that, that we defied God’s will, that’s the day we set ourselves free, Madsen. And then everything can happen.”
It was madness. It was what it was. He had called her from an unknown number. She had answered and not been able to hang up. And now, as if she had been hypnotised and had no will of her own, she was doing as he had instructed, the man who had used and deceived her. How was that possible? She had no answer to that. Just that she must have had something in her that she didn’t know was there. A cruel, animalistic urge. Well, it was what it was. She was a bad person, as bad as him, and now she was letting him drag her down with him.
“She liked that,” Harry said. “Listening to us talk.”
“Did she?” Oleg looked off to the north.
“She used to bring the book she was reading, or her knitting, and sit down near us. She didn’t bother to interrupt or join in the conversation, she didn’t even bother to listen to what we were talking about. She said she just liked the sound. She said it was the sound of the men in her life.”
“I liked that sound too,” Oleg said, pulling the fishing rod towards him so that the tip bowed respectfully towards the surface of the water. “You and Mum. After I’d gone to bed I used to open the door just so I could listen to you. You used to talk quietly, and it sounded like you’d already said pretty much everything, understood each other. That all that needed adding was the occasional key word here or there. Even so, you used to make her laugh. It was such a safe sound, the best sound to fall asleep to.”
Thought back to the time he used to row while his grandfather sat in front of him, smiling and giving Harry little bits of advice. How he should use his upper body and straighten his arms, row with his stomach, not his biceps. That he should take it gently, never stress, find a rhythm, that a boat gliding evenly through the water moves faster even with less energy. That he should feel with his buttocks to make sure he was sitting in the middle of the bench. That it was all about balance. That he shouldn’t look at the oars, but keep his eyes on the wake, that the signs of what had already happened showed you where you were heading. But, his grandfather had said, they told you surprisingly little about what was going to happen. That was determined by the next stroke of the oars. His grandfather took out his pocket watch and said that when we get back on shore, we look back on our journey as a continuous line from the point of departure to the point of arrival. A story, with a purpose and a direction. We remember it as if it were here, and nowhere but here, that we intended the boat to meet the shoreline, he said. But the point of arrival and the intended destination were two different things. Not that one was necessarily better than the other. We get to where we get to, and it can be a consolation to believe that was where we wanted to get to, or at least were on our way towards the whole time. But our fallible memories are like a kind mother telling us how clever we are, that our strokes with the oar were clean and fitted into the story as a logical, intentional part. The idea that we may have gone off course, that we no longer know where we are or where we are going, that life is a chaotic mess of clumsy, fumbled oar strokes, is so unappealing that we prefer to rewrite the story in hindsight. That’s why people who appear to have been successful and are asked to talk about it often say it was the dream—the only one—they’d had since they were little, to succeed in whatever it was that they had been successful in. It is probably honestly meant. They have probably just forgotten about all the other dreams, the ones that weren’t nurtured, that faded and disappeared. Who knows, perhaps we would acknowledge the meaningless chaos of coincidences that make up our lives if—instead of writing autobiographies—we had written down our predictions for life, how we thought our lives would turn out. We could forget all about them, then take them out later on to see what we had really dreamed about.
Ha, I figured out why I picked up this book! Yay, getting better! It was recommended by David Pell in his Next Draft newsletter. That news letter has a strong recommendation, by the way.
This book is the story of Derek Black, who was the White Supremacy Poster Child™ before he started doing his own research, looked at the numbers, and, unlike I would say 99.9999% of the world, was able to change his mind based on facts and evidence instead of opinion and wants.
Black's story is far better told by Saslow's telling, even more by Black's telling, than I could summarize nicely. Pell's recommendation was spot on, it is a good book to read, inspirational in a way I wasn't expected to be inspired. I don't think Saslow completely conveyed the loss Black must have felt when he turned his back on the WS/WN movements, the loss of community, family, identity. He did it, and one should be impressed by it.
The book is a good reminder that one man can destroy a society, takes the rest of us to prevent it.
What was the appropriate response to the most intolerant kinds of free speech? Exclusion or inclusion? Was it better to shame and demonize Derek? Or was it more effective to somehow reach out to him?
Each fall at New College, James witnessed the very real effects of centuries of white domination. He led orientation workshops on race and privilege for first-year students, and one group exercise in the orientation manual began with students lined up side by side at the bottom of a wide stairway. Take one step up the stairs if you’re white, James would tell them. Take one step if you’re male. One step if you’re straight; if your parents went to college; if you own a car; if English is your first language; if you have more than fifty books in your household; if your family has health insurance; if both of your parents are employed; if your high school taught the culture and history of your ancestors; if you’re a citizen of the United States. And year after year, James had watched the most privileged group of students—the ones who looked exactly like Derek—fly right up the stairs, just as they typically ascended to the top positions in American society. Whites were much better off than any other social group by every statistical measure: income, net worth, life expectancy, home ownership, infant mortality, graduation rates, and on it went.
At school, he tested several years above his grade level—a highly gifted student who nonetheless couldn’t fit in with his peers. He felt both superior to his classmates and jealous of their relationships, and late in elementary school Matthew’s feelings of exclusion and isolation were exacerbated by acute physical pain.
“Reach out and extend the hand, no matter who’s waiting on the other side,” his father had told him once,
Every day spent with Derek meant another spontaneous adventure. Allison was used to scheduling her time on a desktop calendar, plotting out daily goals as she advanced down the road map she had drawn for her life.
With one former boyfriend, Allison had sometimes felt as if parts of her were being subsumed into the relationship—her individual friendships, her autonomy, and bits of her confidence gradually swallowed up by the codependency of coupledom. Derek, meanwhile, encouraged her to do whatever she felt like doing most, whether that meant going dancing with friends or playing intramural soccer. He brought her food late at night while she worked on school papers and then left her alone to finish her work. Spending time with Derek never felt to Allison like an obligation. It was always the choice she wanted to make.
The iconic European warriors so often celebrated on Stormfront had never thought of themselves as white, Derek decided. Some of them had considered skin color not a hard biological fact but a condition that could change over time based on culture, diet, and climate. They had fought not for their race but for religion, culture, power, and money, just like every other empire of the Middle Ages. “The fact that white people eventually conquered the world wasn’t proof of fate but basically just a fluke of history,” Derek later wrote.
For years, Don had believed in two facts above all: that white nationalism was an inherently righteous cause; and that Derek was one of the smartest, most rational people he knew. Now those facts were in conflict. Had Don been wrong about Derek’s intelligence? Or had he somehow been wrong about white nationalism? He didn’t want to consider either possibility, so he tried to come up with theories that would make it all fit. Maybe Derek was just faking a change in ideology so he could have an easier life and a more successful career in academia, he thought. Or maybe this was Derek’s way of rebelling against his family. Don spoke for hours on the phone that week with Duke, who suggested another theory. Duke thought Derek was suffering from a kind of Stockholm syndrome. He had become a hostage to liberal academia and then experienced a misguided empathy for his captors and their views about the world.
The challenge for Derek during the next months was uprooting those same seeds in his mind. Even though he had
logically concluded that white nationalism was harmful and wrong, the ideology remained hardwired into every part of his subconscious. Over two decades, he had learned to interpret so much of the world through the lens of white nationalism: to distrust the U.S. government because it was working to undermine the white European majority; to be skeptical of minorities who were inherently working against his best interests; to avoid most popular music because it reflected the multicultural dumbing down of America; to ignore professional sports because they propped up the social standing of black athletes; to skip Hollywood movies made by Jewish propagandists; and to distrust a mass media controlled by liberal elites.
Trump reacted just as Don had done whenever another murderer was connected to Stormfront. Trump called the violence “unfortunate” and then immediately attempted to justify it. “The people that are following me are very passionate,” he said. “They love this country. They want this country to be great again.”
Derek’s own political identity was still largely unformed. He didn’t know if he was a Democrat or a Republican, and he didn’t want to be either one. As a white nationalist, he had always regarded Republicans and Democrats with equal suspicion, because he believed both parties were guilty of forcing multiculturalism on the American people. He was also wary of aligning himself again with any sort of collective ideology—a label that could dictate his decision making. He wanted to be loyal to his own opinions and nothing else,
To be a white nationalist had always meant rooting for chaos and delighting in upheaval.
He had chosen to write about a ninth-century religious leader named Bodo, a royal deacon who had been a rising star in the Carolingian Empire and the Christian church. Historians thought Bodo was destined to become a powerful Frankish politician, but then, in 836, he abandoned his life with little public warning. He converted to Judaism, grew out his beard, changed his name to Eleazar, and then moved to the multicultural kingdom of Al-Andalus, where he married a Jewish woman and began trying to convert other Christians. His former Frankish allies came to consider him a traitor and an enemy. It was one of the starkest individual transformations in medieval history, and the focus of Derek’s research was all that remained unknown. Historians were able to recover only a few official accounts of Bodo’s life and two of his original letters. No one had recorded Bodo’s internal deliberations, his self-doubt, or his emotional reckoning as relationships were made and then destroyed. In the official record, his transformation was clean and absolute: Bodo to Eleazar. A Christian and then a Jew. History had preserved none of the messiness.
“Even if you were somehow right—even if it was super important to keep races apart for preservation—the only way to do that is to put people on trains by busting into their houses and breaking up their families, which is a huge human rights violation.” Don raised his palms up above the table. “So?” he said. “History is filled with human rights violations. They could be forced to leave.”
“Forcing people out?” Derek stared at his father and grimaced. “That’s a horrible thing to hope for. It would be awful and inhumane.” “It’s going to be horrible either way, Derek. This country is on the verge of a reckoning.”
I bought this when it first released, and left it on my shelf for when the time came that I would want to read it. As in, read an actual book, and not an electronic book. The time came, and I enjoyed reading this book. I'd argue that Pines, the first book of the Wayward Pines trilogy, is a better first book than this one, but this one is still an entertaining book to read.
The plot starts out with the kidnapping of the quantum physics professor Jason Dessen, who finds himself in an alternate timeline, and his journey back to his own timeline, his own family.
While one could argue the book is an object lesson about not messing with timelines if every decision ripples out in cascading, compounding changes in the multi-verse, I'm pretty sure that's not what Blake is attempting with the book. A better take would be a reflection about how one can following that slippery slope provided by circumstances to do actions they would never even consider without fate's push, or even an existential look at how one decides one has had a good (or good-enough) life.
It's a fun read, if unnecessarily and unsuccessfully angsty at time. If you're a Blake fan, worth reading. If you're not, wait for the next two books, as it is a trilogy. I don't think I'll be reading the other two.
There’s an energy to these autumn nights that touches something primal inside of me. Something from long ago. From my childhood in western Iowa. I think of high school football games and the stadium lights blazing down on the players. I smell ripening apples, and the sour reek of beer from keg parties in the cornfields. I feel the wind in my face as I ride in the bed of an old pickup truck down a country road at night, dust swirling red in the taillights and the entire span of my life yawning out ahead of me. It’s the beautiful thing about youth. There’s a weightlessness that permeates everything because no damning choices have been made, no paths committed to, and the road forking out ahead is pure, unlimited potential.
Experimental physics—hell, all of science—is about solving problems. However, you can’t solve them all at once. There’s always a larger, overarching question—the big target. But if you obsess on the sheer enormity of it, you lose focus. The key is to start small. Focus on solving problems you can answer. Build some dry ground to stand on. And after you’ve put in the work, and if you’re lucky, the mystery of the overarching question becomes knowable. Like stepping slowly back from a photomontage to witness the ultimate image revealing itself.
The crowd responds in turn, and as everyone drinks, I move toward her. In proximity, she’s electric, so sparkling with life that I have to restrain myself from calling out to her. This is Daniela with an energy like the first time we met fifteen years ago, before years of life—the normalcy, the elation, the depression, the compromise—transformed her into the woman who now shares my bed: amazing mother, amazing wife, but fighting always against the whispers of what might have been.
They have dinner in the city at a nicer restaurant than they can afford and spend the entire time talking like they haven’t talked in years. Not about people or remember-whens, but ideas.
“Sometimes, an extreme stress situation can trigger what’s called psychogenic amnesia, which is abnormal memory functioning in the absence of structural brain damage. I have a feeling we’re going to rule out any structural damage with the MRI today. Which means your memories from the last fourteen months are still there. They’re just buried deep in your mind. It’ll be my job to help you recover them.”
I suppose we’re both just trying to come to terms with how horrifying infinity really is.
Lately, their family dinner conversations have centered around ideas, books, and articles Jason is reading, and Charlie’s studies, instead of a mundane recounting of the day’s events.
We catch a hard, beautiful glow off the booze, and our conversation stays very much in the moment. How the food is. How good it feels to be inside and warm.
“It was. I don’t miss the box, but it’s strange being away from it.” “I don’t know about you, but my old world is feeling more and more like a ghost. You know how a dream feels the farther you get from it? It loses its color and intensity and logic. Your emotional connection to it fades.” I ask, “You think you’d ever forget it entirely? Your world?” “I don’t know. I could see it getting to the point where it didn’t feel real anymore. Because it isn’t. The only thing that’s real in this moment is this city. This room. This bed. You and me.”
Randomness. How do you beat an opponent who is inherently wired to predict any and all moves you might make? You do something completely random. Unplanned. You make a move you haven’t considered, to which you’ve given little or no prior thought. Maybe it’s a bad move that blows up in your face and costs you the game. But perhaps it’s a play the other you never saw coming, which gives you an unanticipated strategic advantage. So how do I apply that line of thinking to my situation? How do I do something utterly random that defies anticipation?
it makes her sad. “Do you think I was happy?” she asks. “What do you mean?” “With everything I’d given up to be this woman.” “I don’t know. I was with this woman for forty-eight hours. I think, like you, like me, like everyone, she had regrets. I think sometimes she woke up in the night wondering if the path she took was the right one. Afraid it wasn’t. Wondering what a life with me might have been like.” “I wonder those things sometimes.” “I’ve seen so many versions of you. With me. Without me. Artist. Teacher. Graphic designer. But it’s all, in the end, just life. We see it macro, like one big story, but when you’re in it, it’s all just day-to-day, right? And isn’t that what you have to make your peace with?”
This book has been on my reading list for a while, I'm fairly certain I saw a copy of it at Powells. I hadn't read anything by Roach before this book, but had heard many squeals of delight from friends when I mentioned I had started (and now finished this book). I now understand why. Roach's writing is engaging, amusing, and enlightening. If you have to learn, being entertained while you learn is the best way to go.
In this book, Roach explores dead bodies, seemingly on a quest to determine what she wants done with her body after she passes. Seemingly because it's a good lead, true or not.
I enjoyed this book far more than I suspect most Americans would or do. American has this pathological obsession with youth, to the point of denying that death even exists, hiding it from everyone until, for the most part, old age, at which point most of us are like, WTF? Most, not all, and I'm grateful for those, like Caitlin Doughty who do talk about death, and dying, and the corpses we leave, because we all leave them.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it. I'd likely buy you a copy if you wanted one and your library didn't have one to borrow.
Death. It doesn’t have to be boring.
One’s own dead are more than cadavers, they are place holders for the living. They are a focus, a receptacle, for emotions that no longer have one. The dead of science are always strangers.*
Let me tell you about my first cadaver. I was thirty-six, and it was eighty-one. It was my mother’s. I notice here that I used the possessive “my mother’s,” as if to say the cadaver that belonged to my mother, not the cadaver that was my mother. My mom was never a cadaver; no person ever is. You are a person and then you cease to be a person, and a cadaver takes your place. My mother was gone. The cadaver was her hull.
Often when I checked out a book I expected to be questioned. Why do you want this book? What are you up to? What kind of person are you? They never asked, so I never told them. But I’ll tell you now. I’m a curious person. Like all journalists, I’m a voyeur. I write about what I find fascinating.
It was Theresa who brought the heads in and set them up on their little stands. I ask her about this.
“What I do is, I think of them as wax.” Theresa is practicing a time-honored coping method: objectification. For those who must deal with human corpses regularly, it is easier (and, I suppose, more accurate) to think of them as objects, not people. For most physicians, objectification is mastered their first year of medical school, in the gross anatomy lab, or “gross lab,” as it is casually and somewhat aptly known.
The problem with cadavers is that they look so much like people. It’s the reason most of us prefer a pork chop to a slice of whole suckling pig. It’s the reason we say “pork” and “beef” instead of “pig” and “cow.” Dissection and surgical instruction, like meat-eating, require a carefully maintained set of illusions and denial.
Humor—at the cadaver’s expense—was tolerated, condoned even. “There was a time not all that long ago,” says Art Dalley, director of the Medical Anatomy Program at Vanderbilt University, “when students were taught to be insensitive, as a coping mechanism.”
The gains in the average person’s understanding of biology have, I imagine, worked to dissolve the romance of death and burial—the lingering notion of the cadaver as some beatific being in an otherworldly realm of satin and chorale music, the well-groomed almost-human who simply likes to sleep a lot, underground, in his clothing.
The bacteria in our gut break those proteins down into amino acids; they take up where we leave off. When we die, they stop feeding on what we’ve eaten and begin feeding on us. And, just as they do when we’re alive, they produce gas in the process. Intestinal gas is a waste product of bacteria metabolism. The difference is that when we’re alive, we expel that gas. The dead, lacking workable stomach muscles and sphincters and bedmates to annoy, do not. Cannot. So the gas builds up and the belly bloats. I ask Arpad why the gas wouldn’t just get forced out eventually. He explains that the small intestine has pretty much collapsed and sealed itself off. Or that there might be “something” blocking its egress. Though he allows, with some prodding, that a little bad air often does, in fact, slip out, and so, as a matter of record, it can be said that dead people fart. It needn’t be, but it can.
There is a passage in the Buddhist Sutra on Mindfulness called the Nine Cemetery Contemplations. Apprentice monks are instructed to meditate on a series of decomposing bodies in the charnel ground, starting with a body “swollen and blue and festering,” progressing to one “being eaten by… different kinds of worms,” and moving on to a skeleton, “without flesh and blood, held together by the tendons.” The monks were told to keep meditating until they were calm and a smile appeared on their faces. I describe this to Arpad and Ron, explaining that the idea is to come to peace with the transient nature of our bodily existence, to overcome the revulsion and fear. Or something.
“The skin isn’t able to heal, so you have to be really careful about nicks. One shave per razor, and then you throw it away.” I wonder whether the man, in his dying days, ever stood before a mirror, razor in hand, wondering if it might be his last shave, unaware of the actual last shave that fate had arranged for him.
As a feature of the common man’s funeral, the open casket is a relatively recent development: around 150 years. According to Mack, it serves several purposes, aside from providing what undertakers call “the memory picture.” It reassures the family that, one, their loved one is unequivocally dead and not about to be buried alive, and, two, that the body in the casket is indeed their loved one, and not the stiff from the container beside his.
Life contains these things: leakage and wickage and discharge, pus and snot and slime and gleet. We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.
A dummy can tell you how much force a crash is unleashing on various dummy body parts, but without knowing how much of a blow a real body part can take, the information is useless. You first need to know, for instance, that the maximum amount a rib cage can compress without damaging the soft, wet things inside it is 2 ¾ inches. Then, should a dummy slam into a steering wheel of a newly designed car and register a chest deflection of four inches, you know the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) isn’t going to be very happy with that car.
The distance between the very old, sick, frail person and the dead one is short, with a poorly marked border. The more time you spend with the invalid elderly (I have seen both my parents in this state), the more you come to see extreme old age as a gradual easing into death. The old and the dying sleep more and more, until one day they “sleep” all the time. They often become more and more immobile until one day they can do no more than lie or sit however the last person positioned them.
I find the dead easier to be around than the dying. They are not in pain, not afraid of death. There are no awkward silences and conversations that dance around the obvious. They aren’t scary. The half hour I spent with my mother as a dead person was easier by far than the many hours I spent with her as a live person dying and in pain.
The British investigators know what butchers have long known: If you want people to feel comfortable about dead bodies, cut them into pieces. A cow carcass is upsetting; a brisket is dinner. A human leg has no face, no eyes, no hands that once held babies or stroked a lover’s cheek. It’s difficult to associate it with the living person from which it came. The anonymity of body parts facilitates the necessary dissociations of cadaveric research: This is not a person. This is just tissue. It has no feelings, and no one has feelings for it.
For Shanahan, the hardest thing about Flight 800 was that most of the bodies were relatively whole. “Intactness bothers me much more than the lack of it,” he says. The sorts of things most of us can’t imagine seeing or coping with—severed hands, legs, scraps of flesh—Shanahan is more comfortable with. “That way, it’s just tissue. You can put yourself in that frame of mind and get on with your job.” It’s gory, but not sad. Gore you get used to. Shattered lives you don’t.
A falling human stops short when it hits the surface of the water, but its organs keep traveling for a fraction of a second longer, until they hit the wall of the body cavity, which by that point has started to rebound. The aorta often ruptures because part of it is fixed to the body cavity—and thus stops at the same time—while the other part, the part closest to the heart, hangs free and stops slightly later; the two parts wind up traveling in opposite directions and the resultant shear forces cause the vessel to snap.
What Snyder found is that a person’s speed at impact doesn’t dependably predict the severity of his or her injuries.
Shanahan cites the example of a Delta crash in Dallas. “It should have been very survivable. There were very few traumatic injuries. But a lot of people were killed by the fire. They found them stacked up at the emergency exits. Couldn’t get them open.” Fire is the number one killer in airplane mishaps. It doesn’t take much of an impact to explode a fuel tank and set a plane on fire. Passengers die from inhaling searing-hot air and from toxic fumes released by burning upholstery or insulation. They die because their legs are broken from slamming into the seat in front of them and they can’t crawl to the exits. They die because passengers don’t exit flaming planes in an orderly manner; they stampede and elbow and trample.*
He says it’s mostly common sense. Sit near an emergency exit. Get down low, below the heat and smoke. Hold your breath as long as you can, so you don’t cook your lungs and inhale poisonous fumes. Shanahan prefers window seats because people seated on the aisle are more likely to get beaned with the suitcases that can come crashing through the overhead bin doors in even a fairly mild impact.
Given his choice of anywhere on the plane, where does he prefer to sit? “First class.”
Kocher urged that the goal of warfare be to render the enemy not dead, but simply unable to fight.
If someone cares to think it through, it isn’t hard to come to the conclusion that someone in a lab coat will, at the very least, be cutting your eyeball out of your head. But most people don’t care to think it through. They focus on the end, rather than the means: Someone’s vision may one day be saved.
On a rational level, most people are comfortable with the concept of brain death and organ donation. But on an emotional level, they may have a harder time accepting it, particularly when they are being asked to accept it by a transplant counselor who would like them to okay the removal of a family member’s beating heart. Fifty-four percent of families asked refuse consent. “They can’t deal with the fear, however irrational, that the true end of their loved one will come when the heart is removed,” says Oz. That they, in effect, will have killed him.
The trouble with human subjects is that no one wants to go first. No one wants to be a practice head.
White doesn’t think the United States will be the likely site of the first human head transplant, owing to the amount of bureaucracy and institutional resistance faced by inventors of radical new procedures. “You’re dealing with an operation that is totally revolutionary. People can’t make up their minds whether it’s a total body transplant or a head transplant, a brain or even a soul transplant.
Under the bland and benign-sounding heading “Medical Treatment for Loved Ones,” Chong describes a rather gruesome historical phenomenon wherein children, most often daughters-in-law, were obliged to demonstrate filial piety to ailing parents, most often mothers-in-law, by hacking off a piece of themselves and preparing it as a restorative elixir.
Anthropologists will tell you that the reason people never dined regularly on other people is economics. While there existed, I am told, cultures in Central America that actually ranched humans—kept enemy soldiers captive for a while to fatten them up—it was not practical to do so, because you had to give up more food to feed them than you’d gain in the end by eating them. Carnivores and omnivores, in other words, make lousy livestock.
of Stephen Prothero’s Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America.
“Death is a possibility for new life. The body becomes something else. I would like that that something else be as positive as possible.”