Fool’s Bargain, Timothy Zahn
Just Ride, Grant Peterson
Against the Grain, Richard Manning
This week my local library began officially offering electronic books via membership in a regional e-book collective. Although I much prefer real books (see my printed-book snobbery? “real books”, I said), I’ve been checking titles out and reading them on my computer to practice with the software…since I’ll soon be explaining to people how to use it. My first read was a Star Wars novella by Timothy Zahn called Fool’s Bargain. Set sometime after the destruction of the empire and starring a squad of stormtroopers who are loyal to “The Empire of the Hand”, it follows them as they attempt to capture a warlord in a secret underground hideout. The tension comes from their having to recruit allies on the ground…possibly treacherous ones. It’s more a short story than anything else, but I enjoyed it.
My second e-read through this system is one of the rare nonfiction titles available through our consortium, and it’s called Just Ride. As you might guess from the cover, its subject is bicycling. The author is a cycling advocate, and believes that the United States bicycling culture has for too long been dominated by the racing scene, which sees bikes as Serious Business, demanding special pedals, special shoes with clips for the special pedals, special clothes, hi-tech gadgets, and hours upon hours of grueling practice. Nonsense! Phooey! Quatsch! Baloney! says he. Bikes are fun. Bikes take you places. Explore that more. After introductions in which he grumbles about this or that aspect of race culture, most of the book consists of simple advice on how to get the most out of cycling. Wear street clothes; ride anytime you like, just for fun, no matter how little a distance; rig your bike with practical accessories, like baskets; don’t try to turn a bicycle into a weight-loss machine. He also provides day-to-day maintenance tips along with actual cycling advice, as with the chapter on how to drift in turning. Just Ride was a fun read, and if you’re on facebook there is a “Slow Bicycle” group dedicated to ideas like the author’s.
In terms of ‘real’ reading, May was a fairly fat month. I’m not sure why, but that was also true last year: after a quiet April, May exploded. It helped that a lot of the reads were on the shorter side, with some energetic authors, especially Jim Kunstler and Joel Salatin. I’m apparently doing a series on food at the moment; something about the explosion of color in the produce isle in late spring brings out my inner foodie. I’ve just finished Against the Grain: How Agriculture Hijacked Civilization, which isn’t quite what I was expecting. The author’s primary contention is that agriculture isn’t about producing food, it’s about the accumulation of wealth. Considering the health disparities between hunter-gatherers, who had a broad diet, and agriculturalists who subsisted on grains (leading to malnutrition, stunted growth, and early death), early agriculture didn’t feed people fully so much as it kept workers alive so they could continue working to enrich the plantation owners. Also, monocultures and processed foods suck. These were the author’s chief contentions, but they weren’t developed in any thorough, systematic way; the book was more a collection of musings than an argument. A recurring theme was that of sensualism; in the author’s view, agriculture keeps us from experiencing life fully, both because hunting enlivens the senses in a way that farming and buying food don’t, and because farming is a dull, monotonous, body-killing lifestyle that only succeeded through imperialism, both military and ecological.
My next read in that neighborhood may be Diet for a Hot Planet, but after the last couple of months I’m in the mood for something light, fun, and comforting, so I think I’ll try a Wendell Berry novel. Also, seeing as the Fourth of July is less than a month away, I’m beginning to think of what my celebratory reading will be. I’m currently considering a biography of George Washington by Joseph Ellis, whose work I like, and a biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, which was reccommended to me as an antidote to all of the anti-Hamiltonian views I was exposed to in my John Adams obsession last year.
In the post this week I received three books: Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first president of India; The Story of my Experiments with Truth, by Mohandas Gandhi, and An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage. Actually, that may be my light-and-fun read. A confession: while most of my books come from libraries or used stores online, whenever I drive to the “big city” of Montgomery, I stop in at a Books-A-Million to look at the magazines. Somehow in the bible belt they manage to sell magazines as scurrilous as Free Inquiry, and even offer magazines for obscure hobbies like model train collecting. (Not that I’ve bought one, I just see it when I’m getting my own copies of Trains and Classic Trains and…well, you get the picture.) Invariably I am harassed by the clerk who wants me to buy one of those membership cards, in which you pay $20 and then get discounts on books and shipping. Well, the clerk at the BAM! I tend to go to the most is very persuasive, and a couple of months ago I finally broke down and bought one of the things. (I was in a good mood: I’d been to the zoo and to a most excellent play, a performance of “Around the World in 80 Days”). Early this week I decided to go to the BAM website to see there were any opportunities for recouping my $20 investment, and so help me if they weren’t offering a copy of a book on my to-read-eventually list (Edible History) in the online bargain bin, for such a low price that I’d pay more to borrow it through interlibrary loan. Assuming I saved something like $3 for shipping (I would have never gone for express were it not “Free”), I figure the card’s real cost is now $17. I suppose if I bought more, I could recoup more of that, but that’s exactly what they want me to do, so I’m just going to see if I can earn that $17 back on bargain books that I would have paid $3 for interlibrary loan shipping anyway.