But What If We’re Wrong?

“But What If We’re Wrong” by Chuck Klosterman. In this book the author posits we may be wrong about all the science we now accept as fact. He bases this on the notion that we have been wrong about science throughout our history. From a brick resting on the ground because that is it’s natural place to rest to the Earth being the center of the universe. But what if in another 500 years a scientist comes up with a theory that turns our concept of gravity and time on it’s head and we find out we were wrong again?

Klosterman is a science journalist and a contrarian. He writes the book to give a differing view on accepted reality. He is not a physicist so he doesn’t get too bogged down but the book is well researched which I like.

The book covers other topics such as which music and arts have lasted the ages and why and which current art may be around for years. Why the U.S. Constitution may not be such a good idea and why American football is so popular. (It’s not why you might think.)

This was a good book to pull me out of my reading funk. It was interesting enough to keep me coming back for more and was broken into short sections so I could take frequent breaks. I also like him because he doesn’t take himself too seriousely and like me, he has experience pre and post internet. Yes, he has written in paper and ink print magazines and newspapers. Anybody remember those?

That Which won’t Speak it’s Name

I listened to 2 chapters of a book that was so extreme and unbelievable I’m not going to name it. The book was about the 5 major things our bodies need to survive and thrive. The first two chapters were about food and water, which made sense. In the food chapter I heard a lot I already knew or which made practical sense. It was when he spelled out exactly what we are supposed to eat where it got ridiculous.

He claims to get the variety of foods we need we have to eat at least 100 different organic AND locally grown items. Only fruits and vegetables. I don’t even think I could find 100 different food items in my area, never mind organic and locally grown. How much time would I have to spend driving all around my state to collect them? How much would it cost? Is he going to loan me some money from the proceeds of his book? What am I supposed to do in the winter when our growing season comes to a halt. I learned that I am going to live a short and horrible life if I don’t find a solution to all these problems.

I lied, I did not finish the second chapter on water. It started out innocently enough like the first chapter on food but quickly got out of hand. He really did his research for this book and makes a lot of salient points but when he got to extremes I started to wonder who these sources were he was quoting. According to him I am drinking more than enough water per day. But I am drinking the wrong kind of water. I drink tap water which is going to kill me, probably tomorrow.

But apparently even natural spring water isn’t safe to drink. It has to be distilled water. He didn’t offer to come transport 14 gallons of distilled water per week to my house so I guess I am on my own constantly walking the 2 miles to the grocery store to buy it. Even then, the distilled water at the store is not safe because it has touched plastic. No, he suggests I buy my own stove top still to turn my natural spring water into the best of distilled water. What if I have a family of 5? Am I going to make it a full time job distilling water? Won’t that cut into my time collecting my 100 food items for the week?

The book was interesting and held my attention but for the wrong reasons. He finally lost me when he said the best way to get your water was with a machine costing thousands of dollars that extracts moisture from the air and filters out the most minute particles. I listened for a few more minutes but had to finally stop when he got to sprinkling salt into the water to get you electrolytes. Silly me, I thought sodium chloride was sodium chloride, but no, I have to buy the most expensive salt on earth from the Himalayas.

I was done at that point. The next chapter was on oxygen and I was afraid to find out I would have to move to a different part of the world to breathe the right kind of oxygen that wouldn’t kill me in a few years.

I can give you the name of the book if you want to email me. I just didn’t want to name it and shame it here. It was interesting and filled with pertinent information, I just couldn’t believe his ideas on how to live the longest and healthiest life. And none of it was proven because he was the only person in the world who seemed to be living this way. But he claimed it was the only way.

Educated

If you only thought of Idaho as a place potatoes come from, then you should read this book, “Educated” by Tara Westover. It follows her life as she pulls herself out of virtual isolation to finding her way into college and writing this book. She started out being home schooled by a Mormon family prepping for the end of days. She was only allowed to read books approved by the church and her strict father. That didn’t leave much to choose from as her father didn’t really like the church because the people there weren’t devout enough about the religion.

I remember at the beginning of the book thinking how alien life in Idaho is until I got to the part where she escapes and thinks how alien life outside of Idaho is to her family. I’m not giving anything away here because you know she survives to write about it in the book.

The book has a lot of scenes where women are mistreated and she also goes into detail describing the gory details of accidents she has witnessed. If you think that would bother you I would stay away from this book.

She had other siblings who went to college before her but I was pulling for her because it seemed a matter of life and death. It wasn’t until she got to school and learned about bipolar disorder that she fit the diagnosis to her father. It is that coupled with his strict Mormonism that was as likely to hurt his family while trying to keep them safe from the outside world.

I found this book by accident while I was waiting on my reader app to give me another. Luckily I liked it. It is one of those “right place at the right time” books for me. I would recommend it if you think you can get around the violence. She has a good writing style which makes it an easy read.

The Hidden Life of Trees

Peter Wohlleben knows more about trees than you or I would ever need to know. He has worked in forestry for most of his life. I liked this book, “The Hidden Life of Trees” because I spent a lot of my childhood in the woods. He explains all the things I saw in the forest but had never studied. He also explains the processes going on beneath the ground that I couldn’t see. There is a lot going on in the forest that I had never even imagined.

He goes into detail about how trees compete with each other for sunlight and water above ground while at the same time helping each other below ground. Older larger tree share nutrients with smaller trees that don’t get enough sun or food. They do this through complex, symbiotic relationships with trillions of fungi in the ground. There are miles upon miles of fungi networks connecting trees in old growth forests. They work together to keep each other alive throughout trees long, slow motion lives.

Trees also have senses like animals. When one tree is attacked by insects it sends chemicals into the air that other trees “taste” and “smell” causing them to create their own insecticides in their leaves and keep the infestation contained. They also have a sense of touch which tells the roots where to grow with the least resistance and to stop spreading their crowns when their leaves touch another tree.

Those are just a few examples of what we have learned about trees over the years. The book contains a ton of science but it is written in a conversational style. He has a way with imagery through words. Illustrating the complex lifestyles of trees.

I don’t want to ruin too much here. This is a good book to read if you are into life sciences but also want a quick read without getting bogged down like you might with a textbook. It is written in common language. It’s a short book but it is filled with information. I think I read it in a few hours but now I know more about trees than anyone really needs to know.

I found this book on Hoopla Digital app. It is free to use, all you need is a device to read on and a library card. You can also read on your desktop or laptop or borrow a movie and stream it to your television. I won’t do that but you could.

Not another book review?

I really tried to get through this book. “Just Kids” by Patti Smith. I pushed myself 3 times but only managed to get halfway through. It’s a memoir and I just couldn’t get past all the lucky breaks she had when she was younger. She could have easily slipped through the cracks of history. Don’t get me wrong. She is a great writer and tells a good story.

If Robert Maplethorpe hadn’t scooped on her when she was homeless in NYC, there is a good chance nobody would know her name. Maplethorpe opened the doors to people who helped her career immensely. He got her into “The Factory” and also to many famous or soon to be famous musicians. It was the musicians who wanted to get into her pants who told her she should be a singer. Even though they had never heard her sing and she herself had no desire to sing in a band. I also wonder if she would have ever been published if she hadn’t had an affair with Sam Shepard, a famous playwright at the time. Even Bruce Springsteen wrote her most well known song.

Maplethorpe asked her to write this book to tell the story of their early love for each other. If you like memoirs or autobiographies or even like Patti Smith, you will probably have more luck with this book than I had.

Maybe it is sour grapes on my part but I just couldn’t see past the amazing coincidences that made her life story. I liked her latest book, “Year of the Monkey” better than this one. In fact, that book was the one that made me want to read more Patti Smith books. Now I think I am going to move on to something else. I would recommend this book if you are a fan of her music or her other writings. She still has great style as an author. The only reason I couldn’t finish the book was my personal problem. Don’t let that stop you. Her life is quite interesting and the list of who’s who she met in her lifetime is endless.

Calypso

“Calypso” by David Sedaris is the latest book I’ve read in text format. I’ve just recently been able to concentrate on reading again so I am lucky it came in at under 300 pages. Sedaris is one of my favorite authors because he is funny and I have kind of grown up with him, reading his books over the last 20 years. He is the only writer I remember who has made me laugh so much I had to put the book down to recover.

When he was just a young gay man with severe symptoms of OCD he was considered extremely odd. Now that he is a successful writer he is just seen as “eccentric”. What makes him such a good writer is he is very observant and is an incessant journal writer. He writes what he knows, which is his own life experiences and spending time with his large family who are also a group of very funny people.

I have a trigger warning. He goes into detail about the circumstances of his sister’s suicide, so if you think you would be bothered by that I would stay away from this book. The funny thing about this sister is the family doesn’t get along with her because she is bipolar and not very nice to them but she doesn’t like her family because she thinks they are all “crazy.” In all his previous books he only wrote one chapter about her and it is one of the funniest.

If you think he sounds interesting I would recommend reading his books in the order they were written as it is just one long journal of his life. You can skip the Squirrel seeks Chipmunk one, it is out of character for him and I didn’t think it made much sense.

I only have one more book to read by him but I have to wait for it to become available for free. I found “Calypso” on Libby, by Overdrive. This is a completely free app that works with your library card.

Hello, is there anybody out there?

I recently listened to the audio book, “The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities” by Caleb Scharf. If you find yourself interested in this book I would go for the audio version as it is a heavy lift with a 10 hour reading time. The book was written in 2014 which is light years in physics but I am a science nerd and I still heard a lot of facts that were new to me.

Scharf is an astro-physicist and professor of astro-biology at Columbia University. The book is about the possibility of life on other planets. Not UFO’s or little green men. Right now the probability is low because we only know of life occurring on one planet; Earth.

He explains complex concepts in an easily digestible form without dumbing it down. It starts with a brief history of scientific discovery but quickly gets to explaining the title of the book. He is well versed in both the macro and micro universe and uses both to illustrate his points. He describes his ideas in a way that you can easily picture what he is talking about.

In this book he carries you through some mind blowing thought experiments both scientific and philosophical. It is always interesting and I felt focused on the topics all the way through unlike the first audio book I listened to which almost turned me off completely.

One concept he kept returning to was we don’t have to look for the “Goldilocks zone” on other planets to find the perfect circumstances for life to develop. This comes from the various forms of life that have developed in extreme conditions right here on Earth. From complex ecosystems based on sulphur compounds released by hydrothermal vents in the deepest parts of our oceans to organisms living beneath thousands of feet of glacial ice.

I’m also fascinated by the way we can deduce the workings of the distant universe with the scant evidence available to us.

If you have enjoyed books by Hawkings and Tyson then I am sure you will like this one. He does tend to keep you entertained by his ideas rather than his sense of humor though.

Scharf has books that are more recent which I want to read but I am limited to books I can find on the Hoopla, Digital app that works for free with my library card. If you can afford it I would recommend buying other books by him in the same vein.

Year of the Monkey

This book is a dream steeped in real life. “Year of the Monkey” by Patti Smith. Yes, that Patti Smith. I was surprised to see her name on my library reader app. I didn’t know she was such a prolific author. I was also surprised she is still alive and still touring at 70 years old. This is her latest book and I plan on reading more. She writes in an easy to read, effortless style. I recognized her name but I didn’t know much about this musical icon. I did some YouTube’ing and discovered I like her writing more than her music. I prefer a different type of punk rock.

The book starts with her staying in what she calls the “Dream Motel.” It is actually named the “Dream Inn” and you would think she had dreamed it up if she didn’t have a Polaroid picture of the sign to prove it. The whole book is punctuated by Polaroid pictures to prove her points. I liked it because I remember those cameras from my childhood, where you just snapped and waited for the film to “instantly” develop before your eyes. She describes a collection that outdid my mom’s and that is no mean feat.

It takes place in the Chinese year of the monkey, starting in Santa Cruz, CA and jumps across the country and other parts of the world. She spends a lot of time in NYC where she still goes to seedy cafes and drinks coffee, talks about books and writes in her journal. From what I gather her life hasn’t changed much in the 50 years since she became famous. And why not? Her life is pretty good. Sometimes it is hard to tell when she is dreaming but when she is with her friends whom she is outliving you know it is real.

She seems to live in the past but she doesn’t have much future left. She surrounds herself with old friends, books, paintings and memories. I thought she would have partied more but she didn’t really. That is probably how she found time to read and write all those books. She ties in passages from the classics and references to old plays. I am always jealous when people can do that. I am awful with names and dates and History class was the only subject I struggled with in school.

It is a memoir that mixes her real friends with her dream friends and sometimes I didn’t know which was which. The story is easy and fun to follow. She has a poetry in her prose which I liked. It would be a good beach read at 166 pages and I am interested in reading at least a couple more of the many books she had written. She has an interesting and storied life and has many famous friends to tell about. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read. Not just fans of her music.

Book Review?

Open books

This was going to be a book review but I think it is going to turn into an author review. I downloaded my library’s reader app, called Libby, by Overdrive. (Named after my daughter) A title quickly caught my eye but it was an audio book. I had never listened to one before. The book is “The Subtle Art of Not giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson. I was a little late to the party on this one since it was already a New York Times bestseller and he is quite famous. The book was not available right away so I listened to the 5 minute sample. It was a summary of Charles Bukowski’s life and the takeaway was “Don’t give a fuck” or in two words, “Don’t try”. Bukowski was one of my favorite writers so I decided to put the book on hold.
It became available the next day and I gave it a listen. It was only 5 hours and I split it in 2.

The book wasn’t at all what I expected by reading the title. It turned into half autobiography and half self help. I’m not a big fan of self help books. I liked the biography part because I had a lot in common with Mark. We both started drugs and drinking at a young age, we both wanted to become famous by playing guitar in a band and we both spent a lot of our lives traveling, partying and chasing women. Another connection we had was our first true loves cheated on us and he describes it as a physical pain as well as a psychological one.

The book is not actually about not giving a fuck about anything. It is about giving a fuck about the right things. I could agree on a lot but I got irritated because he was the one who decided what the right things were and which were “shitty values.” He came across as arrogant and seemed to be saying, “I’ve figured out the right way to live life and if you haven’t by now, you are wrong.”

A recurring theme in the book was him bragging about how he’s traveled to so many countries and partied with so many people and slept with whatever women he wanted that it became boring and then he would say he had “shitty values” while he lived that life. Along with that he would say, my great life wasn’t really so great but by the way, did I mention how great my life was? I mean he lived most of his life doing exactly what he wanted. When I lived that way, I felt great.

Another theme was a great value to attain was to get married and have a family and live happily ever after. That is where he lost me. I was in love, I got married, my child was planned, and I thought I was going to live that way for the rest of my life and it only lasted a few short years before divorce. Every time he brought it up I would think, how does he know this is the one love in his life that would last? Didn’t he already have that feeling with his first love? Didn’t she break his heart by cheating on him?

Another point that stuck to me was he went into detail bragging about all the women he’s slept with but he just casually mentions how he cheated on his fiance (current wife) with a mentally ill woman who had been stalking him. I didn’t like how he made fun of her mental illness and the unspoken part was he took advantage of her and slept with her just because he could.

One chapter was about taking responsibility for your own life which I advocate, but he just wrote off cheating on his fiance as “just what I do.” Wasn’t this the woman he already planned on marrying and raising kids with? Wasn’t this the woman he knew he was going to spend the rest of his life with? That was the main theme of his book. One of the non-shitty values was getting married and having kids. He seemed awfully cavalier about cheating on her while also saying having his first love cheat on him was the worst experience of his life.

Overall the book is well written and makes intelligent points. Although the for the last hour I was just hoping for the book to end after he got into the wrap up and turned inspirational. It was a good read for me because I like books where I can agree with the author on some points and also get peeved. I would recommend the book if you like to listen. That is the only way I could make it through. If it were a paper book I would have put it down about halfway through because he made all his points and kept repeating them. But it did make me think and that is what I like most.

I don’t know how I feel about audio books. I kept getting distracted and missing bits but I was too lazy to rewind and listen again. Whereas with a paper book I would just skip back to the previous paragraph. I would recommend giving it a listen. At least up to the last hour. He did live an interesting life and is a good storyteller.

[Post Script] Two concepts I agreed with were the idea that nobody is “special”. There are many people going through the same or worse or better than you, you are not unique. I am also a strong advocate for taking responsibility for your own life. At least the things you can control. You can’t just sit around and blame others or circumstance if you could actually make a change yourself.

I can’t agree that the ultimate value is to get married and be committed to another person. I know enough to know I am toxic. I am a relationship killer. I’ve been in committed relationships before and I am the one who always ruins it with my behavior and mental illness complications. It is better for me to be in casual, short term relationships. That way less people get hurt. I can’t have anyone feeling responsible for me or trying to cure me.