September reading update

I read 8 books for this month.

I finished the last two books in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.  It was pop cheese, but there was also a lot of emotional resonance with the wartime love that was a major subtext of the trilogy and a major plot point in the last book.  On an ACU scale, the series was quite authentic and universal but not all that great on craft.

I continued with Alt-Hero, there’s a dozen or so planned in the initial crowdfunded set, so I’ll be reading at least that far with this alternate history comic book world.

I read an amazing book by Margaret Kennedy and it is a rare instance of reading without spoilers being absolutely appropriate.  It is called The Feast and even reading the book jacket is not recommended, because for some weird reason the publishers spoiled the entire book there.  It’s a tour de force.  I look forward to continuing to read her work, she is a most astonishing and excellent writer who is unjustly consigned to dustbins even among people who like old books.

I also read four Kate Wilhelm books.  She is known for her “clone wars” book Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, and I finally read that and a bunch of her short stories in various collections.  She is a better writer than her husband Damon Knight, but that’s not high praise.  She mostly writes deeply authentic character fiction about people in her area, but with sci-fi sprinkles.  Her clone novel is full of 70s ideas, with all the bad that entails and little of the good.

So, 72  books down, 28 to go.

 

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August reading update

I read 13 books for this month.

I read two Frank Herbert books that touched upon elements expanded and explored in Dune (selection pressure, genetic experimentation in pursuit of immortality, nasty side effects of messing with nature for personal gain) and I will probably continue reading more Frank Herbert some time in the future, though probably not this year or even next.

I read more Alt-Hero, which now reads and looks like an above-average comic.  It’s a comic book, turns out it doesn’t take long to get decent when you start with experienced comic book artists.  I finished Stalky and Co., a Kipling boarding school book that is absolutely fascinating and charming, but also a bit shocking.  I read a reprint that was done in the 1960s explicitly as “We are reprinting this book about young boys subverting authority FOR SCHOOL ASSIGNMENTS”.  The irony, very much lost.  I also finished Sheila Jeffries’ groundbreaking and extremely useful book about Victorian-era and WW1-era spinsters and their work trying to protect women and children from a rampant climate of abuse and exploitation, including excessively youthful prostitution.  Radical feminists have their own major biases, but they tend to be where I have to go for useful historical background on women, particularly when looking at the last 200 years or so, but sometimes they’re the best game in town further back than that, too.

I finally read the Space trilogy by Lewis and it’s still banging around my head, shocking me with its prescience but shocking me even more with how even Lewis could not predict or suspect the sheer eagerness of people to go much further than his own characters.  It was a more innocent time, or at least he was more innocent in some real and very beautiful ways.

I also read a book by Janice Holt Giles, an astonishingly depthful and accurate historical fiction writer who did a little memoir-work as well and who has apparently disappeared down the memoryhole, despite being extremely prolific and high-selling in the 1960s and 1970s.  There are a bunch of American women writers like this, they were popular essentially until 1980s trash romance took over women’s pop fiction.  And they competed ok through a fair bit of the 1980s in some cases.

I read a simply awful Alfred Bester novel he wrote late in life after 20 or so years out of the sci-fi game.  It was dated sounding, trashy and weird, missing all the charm he had in his 1940s and 1950s stories.

I read some MFK Fisher, in particular her book about how to get along deliciously during wartime or other instances of rationing.  It is a cool little book and many of her tips for how to cook well and enjoy food under extreme deprivation conditions hold up.  She had no animus towards things in boxes if it was what you could get.

I read Crazy Rich Asians.  It was an extremely useful read, but golly, some of the foreign-language profanity was much more graphic than I was expecting somehow.  Since I’ve heard quite a few of those words, having spent much of my life in Asian diasporas or neighborhoods, knowing what they mean will now be…interesting going forward.

And at long last I finished Hippies of the Religious Right.  I didn’t think I could get any more militant and radicalized, and then I finished reading this, including the lengthy notes section.  Welp.

Anyway, 64 books down, 36 to go.

 

Sky King did nothing wrong

He followed the script.

He played by the rules.

He married young, but not too young.  He met his wife when they both were in college.  They moved to be close to family.  He took a job that provided him with free travel to see his own family regularly and stay in touch with more than social media posts.  He was upbeat, patient and pleasant to his co-workers.  He worked hard and did his job unstintingly.

And none of it worked out.  He was making barely more than daycare workers in Washington State make.  His wife was working at a bakery, making around the same.  Combined they were making around the median household income for their state, which is about half what married couples make who have kids in Washington.

But he met her at college.  They married young, but not too young.  They lived near family.

And he was almost 30 and fatherhood was looking like a dream.  He hoped further, additional credentials would finally get him a pay raise, into management.

But hope curdles in the face of grinding reality, where following all the rules pushes you deeper and deeper under and all the smiles and positive attitude aren’t moving you forward, but locking you in place.

His name was Richard Russell.  His friends called him Beebo.  What a privilege they had.

He took a plane up into the light, because for all his efforts to follow the rules, the light was slipping further and further away and all his smiles and good spirits couldn’t push away the dark shadows of despair and futility.

But in that plane, for a little while, he touched the light.  He reached down into this bleak world of corruption and the grinding down of good, young, decent men and he gave a taste of it to the rest of us here on the cold gray ground.

We who only knew him in death call him Sky King.  Sky King did nothing wrong.

 

Life in the Lion’s Den: How grocery shopping more frequently saves us money

One of the learning curves we’ve experienced living in suburbia is kitchen design.  Our old kitchen in the sticks was tiny (almost no prep space), but with very generous pantry space.  It was set up to reheat large portions of shelf-stable foods and not for multi-course cooking.

We had about this much pantry space, but split on each side of the fridge.

The current kitchen has, effectively, no pantry, but lots and lots of custom soft-touch shelving to grab the array of dishes for the gourmet meals you’ll definitely be cooking for that special someone.  Even bachelors can dream big.

We have a zillion of these instead of real cabinet space.

We also went from this type of refrigerator

Ok, it wasn’t outside though. But this is it.

to this type

We have this but narrower, if you can believe.

The change in fridge shelving meant it was much harder to figure out where stale/old food was piling up.

The upshot of all this kitchen change was that we had to switch from weekly shopping to shopping 3-4x a week.  And we are saving a surprising amount of money.  Like 25% off the old grocery budget.

How can such a thing be?

We have found that since the kitchen is not designed to store large amounts of food that we can keep track of our food consumption easier by buying smaller portions.  Then when it’s gone, it’s really gone, not crammed somewhere random.  Things fall behind the super deep shelves of our weirdly narrow fridge.  So less is better, less likely to get shoved into the back and fall into the fridge-abyss.

Also, we used to avoid buying what we wanted if it was supposed to be eaten in a couple of days (usually deli meals, sushi or ready-made salads).  But here buying that stuff means we know what everyone’s eating a lot more easily and if the kids have a picky phase, we aren’t struggling through a stockpile of bulk whatever.  Also, yes, we can buy lighter, lower-cal stuff for Mommy and Daddy this way.

Yes, we buy oatmeal in the single serving packets.  And we’re spending less money than when we bought the bulk sack because half of it doesn’t end up on the floor when someone tiny has a meltdown.

It’s all very counter-intuitive, but it was also a nice feeling to add up the budget for the month and get a pleasant surprise.

Also, and this isn’t really money-related, but we get a lot of decent social interaction out of shopping more often.  People being nice, striking up conversation, just a lot of positivity.  The store managers know us and are glad to see us, and the kids even have their own little shopping carts they can use.

The stores we go to are real “third places” and very mother-friendly rather than “kid-friendly”.  One of the kids has leveled up to “runner” and I don’t have to bring him back or face judging about his breaking and running.  Given that in suburbia I pretty much always have more kids than any other mothers, it’s really a relief and comfort that the grocery store is a place where I’m welcome and acceptable.

(This was in fact true in the boonies too (not the kids thing, there were some larger families, usually 5 kids that would pop in now and again), but we just shopped less often, so I wasn’t seeing that aspect nearly as often going 3-5x a month vs. a week.)

Almost all American married parents are Amazon Prime customers.

Amazon recently revealed they have 90 million or so Prime users in America, and that in the income ranges that mark the married class they have 70 to 90% uptake, with the 100k+ being close to 90% as far as they can tell.  By nearly any guess or estimate or account list, the majority of American households period are not just buying from Amazon, but subscribed to its Prime division.

I see right wing people brag about not buying from Amazon ever, and then I look at the reality on the ground for married mothers, who continue to have most of the children.

Acknowledgement of the extent of SCALE is part of the way towards reducing it.  Bragging on a Amazon Web Services-backed server about how you personally never go near the website to buy books or whatever, not so much.

Hippies of the Religious Right, Chapter Two: The Counterculture

So in Chapter Two, Shires has a brief discussion of the counterculture.  He drops all the right names (Roszak, Ellul) and along the way breaks down the appeal of the counterculture for what became Christian hippies.

The major thing for the “Chrippies” was that they wanted to keep the Golden Rule, freedom and expressive individualism of their parents’ modernist, secular approach to life and belief, but drop the conformism and money-hunger.  They “logic trapped” their parents by pointing out their obvious hypocrisies.

We in the future now might look at how easily and smoothly hypocrisy is dismissed as irrelevant in general political discourse, but the younger Silents and older Boomers were able to pull off confronting hypocrisy because their parents were in fact behaving in an untraditional way.  The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit was two-faced in a way that was historically rather new and thus freshly and particularly susceptible to cries of Hypocrite.  And the children of these parents took advantage of it, pressing that advantage as hard as they could most chances they got.

When you present an adulterer as a moral exemplar people might think you’re a hypocrite.

But the eagerness to trap their parents and authority figures in nets of hypocrisy exposed something Shires presents rather neutrally, the way in which freedom as a movement and ideal superseded the Civil Rights Movement rapidly.  People born from 1944-1960 had an 86% rate of formal religious training (Sunday school, catechism class, and the like) and while this filled many of them (the future Chrippies, what Shires terms the “spiritually sensitive”) with a longing for faith as a seamless garment, with life and belief as one, in practice they sought freedom from orthodox spiritual direction, instead delving into drugs as a path towards that goal of a seamless garment of life-faith.

The use of drugs for individualized spiritual awakening is an interesting contrast to the Dexedrine housewives of the postwar and 1950s timeframe.  The mainstream use of drugs to enforce conformity, particularly with women’s highly constrained and very modern form of the housewife role, is not mentioned by Shires, being outside the scope of his work.  But it something to consider for the era he’s speaking of.

Shires also discusses the original “We have to be intolerant of intolerance!” that was a prominent theme among these seekers and spiritually sensitive youth pursuing an ideal of pure love.  Weirdly, he downplays the sex-cult aspects that arose out of this love-worship.  He mentions an example of humane, saving love from M.A.S.H. the movie, in which a suicidal doctor is brought back with the love of his coworkers via them staging a pretend Last Supper and dosing him with a sleeping draught…only for him to be revived in “Heaven” where a beautiful nurse has sex with him.  Not exactly Biblically grounded (a recurring phrase Shires uses regarding the spiritually sensitive who became what I’m terming Chrippies or Christian hippies).

Shires describes the nurse as “compassionate and compliant”.  This implicit approval for “free love” with Christian sprinkles explains some of the odder acceptable fringes that flowered in the wake of the Jesus movement and the Christian hippies it produced.

Shires’ own language reveals some telling things about what roles women were to play as some of them rebelled against the artificial and novel form of the housewife role their parents and older sisters were performing.

Anyhow.  On to Chapter Three!

Hippies of the Religious Right, Chapter One: Modern Culture– Mainstream and Mainline

In the first chapter, Shires begins to lay out the groundwork for his exploration of how the counterculture spun off Christianized hippies.  He does this by pointing to the rise of modernism, with its whispers of neophilia and materialism that carried a clinical yet intense passion for material gain and economic security.  He doesn’t get quite as blunt as what the Third Child study researchers found, that the Boomers’ parents were people who thought hiding your Christian faith was fine if it meant getting a raise. But he does point out that the Boomers’ parents were very invested in Getting Paid and that they accepted the idea that church is just for Sundays easily.

When I started hanging around in evangelical circles, there was a free-floating idea that “Church is just for Sundays” was a recent thing and that in the 1950s, say, it wasn’t like that.  This is completely wrong.  “Church is just for Sundays” is roughly a century old at this point in terms of American religious practice.  By the 1950s it was even codified that there was no particular immorality or degenerancy attached to not attending.

One very interesting thing Shires does in the first chapter is explain that the liberal-material Christian view was an accommodation with the advances of technology and scientific thinking.  He briefly mentions something I’ve encountered in some of the early 20th century American writers I’ve read, the pushback against early-stage Affluenza which predated the counterculture by a couple of generations.  It is beyond the scope of his book, but the post-frontier Nature-love types like Gene Stratton-Porter were forerunners to the counterculture Christian-hippies.

Part of the fallout of the high highs and low lows of technology-driven rapid prosperity was liberal Christianity and wider social mores adopting conformism as a tool against unchecked greed and lust for profits and as a way to preserve economic prosperity and social stability.  They were anti-technocrats, but ones who integrated a technocratic perspective into their faith, secularizing the story of the loaves and fishes as merely a model of sharing.  That watered-down, materialist approach was already a dominant force in American Christianity prior to the counterculture.

The modernist, liberal Christians whose perspective dominated much of the middle classes that Christian-hippies came from were essentially Pelagian individualist materialists.  There was nothing supernatural about God and faith, it was just about love, and further, love that could be expressed by just living a good life and not being too greedy.  There was no Again to be Born.

The “Chrippies” rejected this idea of worship being a Sunday thing and optional at that as too private and self-contained a way to be Christian.  They wanted a more muscular, open, light blazing kind of faith.  Which leads to Chapter Two, a discussion of the counterculture.