Book Corner 2021.21

by Colson Whitehead

This book was a horror show. I only read it for book club. I don’t watch horror movies, and I don’t read them by choice, either. If this book were a movie, it would be one of those super-R-rated violent guy movies that I wouldn’t go near with a ten foot pole. SPOILER – the climactic scene with the gunfire ripping through all the bodies at the happy gathering down at Lemondrop Farm on Lollipop Lane was almost a parody. But really, that’s not a spoiler, because if you think for one moment past the first few pages that this tale is going to have a happy ending, you must read some weirder books than I do. (  )

Book Corner 2021.20

by Jacob Goldstein

I was really bored through all the early history of the first half. “Self,” I kept saying to myself, “I’m confused. What does this have to do with food?”

I perked up once the Fed came on the scene. 🙂 The Fed was “a horse designed by a committee of committees, a camel of a central bank.” We have 12 districts because the “central” part of “central bank” was too scary for people; and we were almost controlled by private bankers, rather than overseen by a board appointed by the president.

The financial crisis of 2008 is well explained from a different perspective. Learn (again for the first time?) how “money-market funds” came to be and what it meant when the most famous and long-standing one “broke the buck.”

Goldstein has good style. Each chapter is short, heavily sub-chaptered with often funny sub-chapter-titles, and ends with a lesson and/or premonition. His informality does devolve a little bit excessively at times (“It was a dick move”… “You know who knew? Irving damn Fisher”).

He has a great overarching lesson, though. We all known that money is “a made-up thing.” Of course it is – it’s just PAPER at the end of the day, after all. But more importantly, the way we “do money” is a made-up thing. It seems every time we make up a new way to “do money,” very quickly we forget there was ever another way; and that surely this way is the only “real” way, and we’ll all go to hell in a handbasket if we think about doing it some other way.

First go back to gold and silver coins. Why should they be money? They have rarity in their favor, and some utility, but why make them money? Because we said so. But we could say something else: next, consider the gold standard. Why did money have to be pegged to this element called gold? Because we said so. And now… there’s an interesting old-but-new-again theory called Modern Monetary Theory which says that basically, as long as we aren’t at full employment and experiencing inflation, it’s OK for the government to print all the money it wants. It really doesn’t have to be balanced with higher taxes; we don’t have to wonder how we might “pay for” government programs. Why not just MAKE money to pay for them? We make all this money stuff up anyway. Well… why not? (  )

What’s Your Superpower?

Extroverts are like cold-blooded animals. Cold-blooded animals can generate no body heat of their own; they must bake themselves in the sun to keep from freezing. Likewise, extroverted people cannot generate their own “heat”. Only by basking in the energy of someone else can they survive emotionally.

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Introverts are warm-blooded. Our fire comes from within.

Then You Really Might Know What It’s Like

This is what it’s like.

I look at a picture of Tom when he was young, and Vera when she was young.

I look at a picture of myself.

I think how I look a little like him, a little like her, and a little like myself.

I think how I’m probably a little like him, and a little like her, and a little like myself.

I picture the three of us together.

I picture people seeing the three of us together.

I picture them seeing us and thinking, that’s Tom and Vera, and their daughter.

I think of it registering, and making sense, and people nodding and moving on.

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Think about having a pain, or an itch, or an anxiety.

Think about having had it so long, and it being so low-level, that you don’t think about it anymore.

Now imagine taking a drug, or getting a warm bath, or a professional massage, that makes it suddenly go away, for however long, maybe just for a moment.

For however long, this thing lifts that you didn’t even notice anymore.

You feel what it would be like to live without that.

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That’s the best I can do at describing what it’s all like.

Book Corner 2021.19

by Benjamin Lorr

Not what I was expecting, exactly. Little story arc; more of a series of discrete journalistic investigations. Some of them were very difficult to read – the perpetually debt-ridden life of a trucker; the horror story of being an enslaved, maimed captive on a Thai fishing boat; even the ostensibly benign story of the woman furiously driven to make “Slawsa” a success (and climb out of debt) was a little sad.

But Benjamin Lorr’s style is really captivating. He’s just trying to make sense – doesn’t have an ax to grind; doesn’t constantly make himself the center of the story; ultimately doesn’t come out with much in the way of answers. For those who want reform, he wants us to “consider that any solution will come from outside our food system, so far outside that thinking about food is only a distraction from the real work to be done.”

As a temporary sidetrack, Lorr mentions a prior book about the world of yoga, where he wondered what it was all FOR, all this yoga – it all seemed to be just be able to do more yoga. I feel that way when I wonder about why we care so much about being healthy. Why lose weight? To be healthy. Why be healthy? To live longer in better health. For what though? What’s all this health ultimately for? Anyway – he finds an eerie analogy in the world of groceries and our god of convenience. What are we making everything so convenient FOR, ultimately?

Anyway I do love those philosophical questions. Like he said – thinking about food itself is just a distraction. (  )