forestofglory: Glasses and books (books)
This a nice readable book that helps put the current debates about food and agriculture policy in historical context. Belasco traces the debates back to Malthus, Goodwin and Condorect.

The 1st part of the book looks at how academics talked about the issues. The second part looks and science fiction novels and the third part at pop culture.

I thought his theory that all SF is either utopia or distopian was an extreme over simplification. However if you ignore that most of what he said about SF works was ok. I liked that he had a diversity of SF works, including Woman on the Edge of Time and Herland. He does thoroughly spoil all the stories he talks about so be warned.

In the pop culture section he focused a lot on worlds fairs, and other exhibitions.

Over all I enjoyed this book and recommend it for others who are interested in understanding food policy in a more historical context.
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1980/79 Novel: The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke I didn't think I'd like this at all, but actually I rather enjoyed it. It is an engineering story about building a space elevator. The book has a list of references in the back, it is hardcore like that. (Thus I learned that Clarke didn't originate the idea of the space elevator.) Anyways there isn't much character conflict at all. There is a conflict with some monks that seems like maybe it could be epic, but then it just goes away.

Clarke is also a bit dim about religion. Most humans aren't going to give up religion because an alien prob comes along and says that religion is illogical, and that most aliens don't have any. It's just not what people are like. Oh well, this is not a book about people at all really.

(See also Jo Walton's Review which says more and is generally cleverer then mine.)

2007 Novelette: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang This story has several stories within it and lots of time travel. I thought it was interesting and bit sad, but also exoticizing.

I've now read all the novels and all the works from the 00s.

The Hugo nominations have been announced!

Stories that have been nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo are:
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
“The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis
“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone
“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard
“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson
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So I only read one story this month. I'd blame it on the SFWA and their confusing numbering of the Nebula Showcase Volumes, but even though this confusion lead me to get the wrong volume from the library, I didn't finish my previous book (Mindscape by Andrea Hairston) before I got the correct volume. So I'm going to blame reading longer books and more non-fiction.

Anyways here is the review:

2001 Novella: "The Ultimate Earth" by Jack Williamson The premise was interesting and kinda creepy, but the creepy bits don't really get explored, the story went somewhere else instead.
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So this book is about spinning, weaving and women's lives in pre-historic up to early-classical Europe. It is very readable but I found myself wish for just a bit more detail on a lot of things. The author uses traditional ages: stone age, bronze age, Iron age -- which I think are problematic because they imply tech advance is linear. Barber uses a wide variety of methods, including linguistic reconstruction; the study of physical objects such as: a artifacts used to make fabric, actual bits of a fabric and string that have been preserved, depictions of clothing and depictions of making fabric; and the study of written works including Mesopotamian letters for weaver wives to their trader husbands. There is lot of good stuff here. Over all a very pleasant read.

[*] The full title is: Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.
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This was written in the 70's in Japan it is about natural farming and the author's philosophy of life. Masanobu Fukuoka was trained and worked for a while as plant scientist but decided to quit a go back to the land. It's very hippy that way. Anyways by trail and error he develops this awesome farming method. It's no-till, no chemicals (he doesn't even use compost) but there is a lot of hand labor (he only uses traditional tools). He plans his winter grain and rice at the same time with clover to act as N-fixer. He says his yields are comparable to both traditional Japanese rice farming and mechanized farming. One that that irritated me a bit is that he kept saying how easy his method was -- but he has all these students who are basically free labor. They get room and board and training. I think this would be a huge advantage but he doesn't mention them in that context. Still I think his farming method is clever.

After talking about his farming method he talks about his ideas about natural food and philosophy. These sections made less sense to me. Especially the philosophy. It is all "their is no difference between red and green and if you see a difference you are being mislead by the discerning mind" which is just confusing and I like things being different then each other.

Anyways I really liked the bits in this book about farming but the bits about philosophy just left me a bit confused.
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I really enjoyed reading this book. It is the kind of that is easy to read for a little bit and then put down (which what I did) but everytime I picked it up I found out something new and interesting.

The book's thesis is that changes in Jewish eating laws have reflexed and often reinforced changes in how Jews have seen themselves in relation to non-Jews and other groups of Jews. Kraemer draws many symbolic parallels between dietary changes and a social changes.

One tantalizing idea that wasn't followed up as much as I'd have liked was interaction between gender and Kosher laws. Kraemer mentions that women generally had less access to religious training (in many times and places they couldn't read Hebrew for example) and that this might have caused women to be extra strict about the laws, but this point isn't dwelt on for long. I think that since women did most of the cooking that their views on keeping kosher deserve more pages.

I liked this book for combining subjects that interest me, for being well written and very readable, for being full of interesting facts. I enjoyed how the book used many sources including archeology, written Jewish law and other historical sources. I thought the book did a good job at painting an engaging picture of a very small part of Jewish history.
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So I have mixed feeling about Wendell Berry. On the one hand he firmly links conservation and agriculture, and writes about the problems of modern agriculture in lovely prose. On the other hand he is a social conservative and a bit vague about solution to these problems. Berry seems to believe that if we all lived according to the Jeffersonian agrarian ideal we all be happier, healthier, more moral, better citizens and have better marriages. Which I think is a bit much. Also I don't believe that changes in scale alone can solve today's agricultural problems. So I tend to agree with the board points in this book, but not some of the narrower ones, and I do enjoy the prose.
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This book is really hard to explain, it is about ecological modeling, and how science and knowledge making are embedded in society, and the best ways to approach understanding complexity. I found it to be a really good and interesting book. I personally enjoy looking at complex situations and issues and trying to tease out connections, and have some experience with ecological modeling, so I am part of Unruly Complexity's target audience.

The the first section of the books discuses ecological models -- in this case models of how ecological complexity interacts with stability of communities. Taylor criticizes existing takes on this problem for not thinking about how complexity arises. The next section talks about ecological modelers and their social context. It discuses how what counts as knowledge is constructed, and how scientist values interact with their work. The third and final section is the hardest to sum up. The section is titled Engaging Reflectively and talks about how scientists can be more aware of their social setting ect, and thus do a better job.

One of the major themes of the book is that complexity is hard to study, and that modeling complexity as a contained system has many problems. However if you want to study ecology or society, and/or the interactions between the two the you will be stuck with unruly complexity. While I think the book offers some ways to look at this complexity I wish it provided more tools.

I really liked how this book looked at complexity and how it is studied. The book gave me a lot to think about.
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This book is a detailed and intricate portrayal of strawberry growing in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in the 70s and 80s. I had some trouble with the writing style which I found rather dry, but over all I thought it was a good book.

The book discusses labor relations and resistance. Race, class, and immigrant status all have important roles to play. Strawberry Fields show how labor relations are embedded in social and political relationship especially in this case changing immigration and labor laws.
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Reviews for this month:

1987/86 Short Story: "Tangents" by Greg Bear This story was rather bland. I didn't find it very interesting, and don't really have much to say about it.

1980/79 Novelette: "Sandkings" by George R. R. Martin Well written, fairly creepy with interesting critters.

2010 Novel: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi I have mixed feeling as about this book. On the one hand the science is extremely implausible, and most of the viewpoint characters are rather unlikeable. Still I found it compelling reading -- I wanted to know what happened next.
forestofglory: Glasses and books (books)
This book is the story of Henrietta Lacks' family. Henrietta died in 1951 of cervical cancer, but before she died cells from her tumor where taken and used to make the 1st immortal human cell culture. Her cells where used in many many medical advances and are still used in research today. Her family knew nothing about this until the 70's. They are poor and black, and though money has been made buying and selling Henrietta's cells, and form patients the cells help make possible, the none of the Lacks can afford health insurance.

Skloot does provide some science background and explain how the HeLa cell line was used, but she primary focuses on the Lacks family, telling many stories about her interactions with them. I sometimes had trouble empathizing with their lack of education and confusion about science. However I liked how the book used specific people to bring up large unsolved ethical issues.
forestofglory: Glasses and books (books)
I found this book very readable. Indeed I read it in about a week, which is fast for such a dense book.

The book covers American eating habits form 1880 to 1930 (with the last chapter giving a whirlwind tour of 1930 to about the 1980's). The book there for covers some of the same ground as Perfection Salad but is not spefically focused on women's roles. There is in stead more of focus on class and income and how these effected diet.

One thing that struck me was how terrible everyone's diet was in the 1880's; no on of any class ate very many veggies. I guess I've been reading too much Michael Pollan and other activist types who go on about the virtues of traditional foodways. This book is stark reminder that some old fashioned foodways where not really that good. (And of course they where less likely to be good if you where poor.

Over all Levenstein argues that economics probably had the biggest role in changing food habits, followed but advertising and education (including school lunch). However the book isn't really making a sweeping argument, more pulling together a lot of information in a informative and entertaining way.
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I feel like it took me a really long time to read this book. I guess after my book group, reading a non-fiction book in more then a week or two seems like forever. I'm just not quite that motivated on my own.

Savoring the Past was full of interesting information. I love details about what people eat (both in history and in fiction) and this book defiantly had that. There is even a recipe section in the back (which I wish was little bit more integrated with the rest of the text -- maybe just some more notes about the context). The author relies mostly on the written record and so focuses on the foods of the upper-classes as no one wrote about what the peasants where eating.

The author is also a cook and has tried many of the recipes and often talks about what she thinks of the food as a eater. I like this perspective very much, and think that it enlivens the text.

Still it would help the reader to have a basic knowledge of French history and cooking terms, as these are sometimes referenced without explanation.
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Stories read this month:
1973/72 Novelette: "Goat Song" by Poul Anderson This is a SF retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice. I thought it did a very good job with the mythical correspondences.

1982/81 Novella: "The Saturn Game" by Poul Anderson This story is awfully negative about roleplaying, but it does have an awesome setting.

1995/94 Novella: "Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge" by Mike Resnick [*] This story is very bleak, yet I found myself drawn in. The concept of the story, of an archeological dig on Earth long after the fall of humanity was neat too. The team is able to look back on human history through a series of artifacts. Social Justice Stuff: I'm not a fan of call humanity Man and referring to us with a masculine pronoun. There are a fair number of Black people in this story, but they are generally portrayed as primitive and/or corrupt.

I've now read all the stories through 1978. My library has a gap at 1979 though, so I'll have to track those stories down else where.

I've now read all the Poul Anderson stories on the list.

[*]Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick is available free online.
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This book was very readable. Sometimes I find non-fiction a slog, but this was pleasant to read and really drew me into the story of the three sisters. This book has lots of extracts of letters between the sisters and other people in their lives. This really made the book feel intimate and personal.
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I'm planning to do a monthly update on my progress with Hugo and Nebula project. The main post is here

This month I only read one short story. Here is my review:

1972/71 Novelette: "The Queen of Air and Darkness" by Poul Anderson I liked the setting of this, but the man explains everything to a woman mode of explain the action got old. At least the female character was scientist, though the story focused on her role as a mother more.

I currently have one volume containing a short story out from the library, and one on hold. So I should be able to read at least 2 stories next month.

I'm also enjoying some of the other short stories in the anthologies I'm reading. Joanna Russ's especially. Too bad there doesn't seem to be a collection of her stories in print, because I'd quite like one.
forestofglory: Glasses and books (books)
I borrowed this book form my brother who is the historian in the family. I thought this book was very well done, lots of quotes form ordinary people that really give you a feel for everyday life during the war. Overall this was a good read. There where many bits that made me go "How can people be so awful" but there where also times when people showed compassion. Still the over all balance was definitely towards people being racist. I think it is important that we acknowledge this kind of thing, so I'm glad I know more about it. I recommend the book, if you are interested in this type of thing.
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"The dualism of domestic and wild is, after all, mostly false, and it is misleading. It has obscured for us the domesticity of the wild creatures. More important it has obscured for us the absolute dependence of human domesticity upon the wildness that supports it and in fact permeates it"
-- Wendell Berry, "Conservationist and Agrarian"

This was one of my favorite quotes form a book of essays, called Farming and the Fate of Wild Nature: Essays in Conservation-Based Agriculture, edited by Daniel Imhoff and Jo Ann Baumgartner. I read this one my trip but haven't manged to write a review of it yet. (Still trying to review all the non-fiction I'm reading) I've having a hard time in part because I read it a while ago and in part because it is difficult to sum up.

I found this book light reading I was familiar with most of the concepts familiar. The book is mostly option rather then facts. There are a variety of points of view. All pro-conservation of course, but taking different approaches. I think this book could be a good introduction to the intersection of agriculture and conservation, but if you are well versed in these areas you won't learn much form it.
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Full title: Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education

I picked up this book on my trip, because it looked fun and interesting – and I didn’t think it was something I’d be able to find in the US. It turns out that the flap copy is a bit misleading – it sounded like they book would be about the 1st women to go to university in England, when in fact the book has a slightly broader scope and is about women who attended university before World War II.

What I most enjoyed about this book is that it was full of interesting and delightful details – for example one woman was offer a pony instead of a university education! There are also lots of details about the daily lives of university women, what they ate where they studied, what they did for fun (coco parties!). I love this kind of detail and find that it makes the subjects seem like real people.

However I did find the organization of the book less than ideal. The book is divided into thematic chapters about subjects such as work, first experiences of universally, sports and societies, etc. My problem with this was that it made it difficult for me to follow the story of any one woman (many of whom appeared in multiple chapters). I also found it hard to have a chronological view of women at university because the book jumped between periods.
Over all I found the book to be charming and full of lovely detail. (It is clear the author did a lot of research.) However I found the overall story and the individual stories hard to follow. I recommend Bluestockings if you enjoy reading about the details of daily life, or are interested in the history of women in higher education.
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I read A Book of Bees, because a friend who is a beekeeper lent it to me. (Hopefully I'm going to get out and see his hives this month)

I found reading this book very soothing. The book is a description of the normal tasks of beekeeper, mixed in with observations about the countryside where the author lives, and bits of older writings about bees.

Most of what I've read about bees before has been from a Behavioral Ecology perspective, about the fact that bees are haplodiploid, and how that makes for very interesting kin conflict. So it was nice to see bees from a more practical point of view.

My one problem with the book is that it uses "he" as generic pronoun.


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