Monday, February 25, 2013

The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

Many people fantasize about a world long gone, where life was less complicated by modern day complexities and technology.  Diamond has set out to clarify just what we gave up by moving out of hunter-gatherer bands and into high rises. His latest book compares traditional societies with modern lifestyles without glorifying or vilifying either.

Diamond explores just a few aspects of life, including conflict resolution, war, child rearing, the treatment of elderly, eating habits, and even how different people react (or don’t react) to coming in contact with a stranger.  He argues that both modern cultures and traditional ones have some advantages and some weaknesses in all of these areas.

The fantasy of a less complicated life is just that, a fantasy.  Traditional cultures may not have to worry about job security, but they do need to worry about famine and disease.  Some may also need to worry about whether or not they will be seen as useful as they age, or if their family will kill them as they become more of a burden.  Modern society also has the advantages of being able to live peacefully with people we don’t know, whereas Diamond explains that many traditional people might be inclined to kill a stranger on sight.

Just as there are advantages to modern society, there are areas where it falls behind the traditional ones.  Looking specifically at American culture, most children speak and understand only one language, though recent studies have shown there are advantages to being multi-lingual, which most traditional societies are.  Traditional societies also don’t suffer from the same western diseases that many Americans do, such as hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease.  People in traditional societies tend to be fitter; their lower life expectancy is generally the result of less access to emergency medical care and the availability of food.  According to Diamond, children in traditional societies also tend to focus on games that require cooperation and critical thinking, but almost never on competition.

Knowing nearly nothing about anthropology or traditional societies, I still found this book perfectly accessible and highly interesting.  I found myself looking forward to each new chapter and the critiques and observations it would contain.
As always, Diamond is a readable expert, making this book perfect for the casual reader or the scholar.  

Buy it indie!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

President's Week (AKA Week of Hell)

Well, I know I promised a new post for yesterday. But then the retail nightmare of presidents week happened, which left me without my usual quiet Sunday afternoon time to work on a book review for the store (and also this blog).  So, the review will have to wait until next week.  For now, here is a fun collection of customer interactions.  I'll try and add to this throughout the day today. #bookstorebingo

Customer: Hi, is that area with the tables a separate business?
Krysta: The cafe is a separate business, yes.
C: So they have a menu?
K: Yes...
C: But if I order, can I eat at those tables, or are the tables a separate business?

K: Ma'm? Is that your child?
C: Yes is something wrong?
K: We prefer if he didn't put the toys into his mouth unless you buy them first.

K: Hi, are you having fun with those stuffed animals?
C (maybe 4 years old): Yeah!
K: Where is your mom?
C: Oh she's just looking at stuff.
K: Where is your dad?
C: Skiing.
K: Can you see your mom right now?
C: No.
K: Does she know where you are?
C: No.
K: Well we better go find her.
Mom: Is something wrong?
K: You can't leave your child unattended in the store
Mom: Why not?

C: Is this book for sale?

C: Can you help me find a book for my son?
K: Sure! How old is he?
C: He's in first grade, but the first grade books are too easy for him.
K: OK, here are some second grade books that are really fun.
C: No, these are too hard.  He's just barely beginning to sight read!

C: I'm trying to find a book for my granddaughter.  She's in second grade, but she reads on a 6th or 7th grade level.  If she doesn't know a word, she looks it up.
K: Here is a job application to this store.  Have her fill it out when she turns 17.

C: Do you sell Nerf guns?
K: No.
C: None at all?
K: No.
C: Nothing like a Nerf gun?
K: No, we don't sell any guns.
C: (laughing) You don't sell guns?! That's funny.

C: You read this? (holds up copy of Omnivore's Dilemma)
K: Yes.
C: You read the whole thing?
K: Yes.
C: Wow...

This one from co-worker Amy:
C: Where are the books?

C: Excuse me. Do you read books?

From another co-worker, Tracy:
C: I need help finding something.
T: OK, what can I help you find?
C: A book.

From Jess:
C: Do you have books by authors?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill

Eating Dirt is not at all what I was expecting.  Tree planters are not the kind of people I was expecting either.  Tree planters are down and dirty.  They are not flowery people and Gill makes no attempt to hide all of the nitty gritty details of their working lives.  She also makes no secret that while they do believe in the work they are doing, at the end of the day it's a way to pay bills, make money, and get by.  They're not on the front lines of environmentalism, they're more like clean up crews and they are a little jaded from it.  Once they get to a site, it's already been logged.  There is no natural beauty left, just the broken landscape and another opportunity to earn a day’s wage.

Despite all of this, the book is not sad.  It's not about environmentalism, it's about tree planters.  It's their story.  And those stories are not boring, or dark, or without hope.  They are hard working people but you've never heard about them before.  They've been around as long as man has been logging, and they'll be around as long as there are trees left to be cut down and replanted.

Gill brings this book to life with her rich writing and I found myself forgetting that I was reading non-fiction.  I wanted to hear the end of the stories she told and what happened to the people who passed in and out of her tree-planting life.  But true to life, the stories aren’t over yet and so have no ending.  Sometimes people just drift away.

Although the book reads as fluidly as fiction, there's no mistaking the truth in Gill's words.  She has both researched and experienced the lives of trees alongside man.  She explains the history of logging and tree planting.  She explains the fall of civilizations from over-logging.  She reminds us that, for all of our advancements, we are still making the same mistakes that many doomed civilizations before us had made.  For all of our technology, a tree’s purpose in the world has not changed.  All that has changed is man's ever-growing desire for the endless uses of felled trees.

Buy it indie!