Sunday, June 5, 2011

Summer Reading List

Welcome back to the sixth annual Zeta Woof Summer Reading List. As always, this is a list for you, not for me. I've read them each already, and most of them twice, and I feel that any book worth reading twice is a book that you can confidently recommend to your friends. Enjoy.

history_world_6_glasses.jpgA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage.

You might think, along conventional lines, that agriculture was invented first, and then bread, and finally beer. You might, in fact, have it exactly backward.

Tom Standage says it's more likely that beer was discovered first, that bread was an accidental by-product of the beer making process, and that agriculture and all the rest of civilization was developed primarily to ensure a dependable supply of beer.

Beer, wine, whiskey, coffee, tea, and Coke®. What you didn't know about beer is nothing compared to what you didn't know about Coca-Cola®. This light but fascinating history of the world is perfect for the beach. Enjoy a glass or two while you read it.
life_among_the_savages.jpgLife Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson.
Our house is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books; we also own assorted beds and tables and chairs and rocking horses and lambs and doll dresses and ship models and paint brushes and literally thousands of socks. This is the way of life my husband and I have fallen into, inadvertently, as though we had fallen into a well and decided that since there was no way out we might as well stay there and set up a chair and a desk and a light of some kind; even though this is our way of life, and the only one we know, it is occasionally bewildering, and perhaps even inexplicable to the sort of person who does not have that swift, accurate conviction that he is going to step on a broken celluloid doll in the dark.
We all read Shirley Jackson in high school, at least those of us in AP English. This is not one of her horror stories, though. Catalog it under humor, as in: you'll die laughing.
peterson_understanding_photography.pngBryan Peterson's Understanding Photography Field Guide: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera.

When I got my SLR I needed some instruction, and Peterson became my guide. I can't imagine a better one.

We began with Exposure, a topic on which he has written entire books, and then on to Aperture, and Shutter Speed and ISO. That's the technical foundation but it's only the beginning. In Learning To See we explore the lenses, including the versatile “street zoom” my camera came with. Then on to Designing A Striking Image, where we deal with line, shape, form, texture, pattern, color, and scale. Then composition, and filling the frame, and on, and on. Every topic illustrated with one of those thousand dollar photos that Peterson makes his living producing.

You can learn a lot from a talented artist, especially one who writes so clearly. If you own a camera, you should own this book.
why_we_get_fat.gifWhy We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes.

The most amusing thing about watching our current First Lady swell up to truly Oprahoidal dimensions while telling the rest of us what to eat is that she will never understand what has happened or why, because she won't read this book.

Three years ago I recommended Good Calories, Bad Calories, but it was too long, at six hundred pages, and too difficult, what with all the citations and end notes, for the average person. Taubes has remedied that with this book. It's just over two hundred pages and an easy read for anyone with a high school diploma.

It's the bare minimum you should know about the new nutrition. Do you want to live to a ripe old age? Study up now.
nothing_to_be_frightened_of.gifNothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes.

No matter how good your nutrition, though, eventually you're going to, you know, well... pass on.

That's all right, you don't have to think about it. Most of us don't. Julian Barnes didn't think about death either, except for the times when he woke up in the middle of the night screaming, and then he couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterward. Gradually it became an obsession.

So he dealt with his very rational fear of death the way any writer would. He wrote a book about it. A very interesting, very literate, very funny book.
when_money_dies.jpgWhen Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation, and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany by Adam Fergusson.

Speaking of death, what happens when those fine, engraved portraits you carry around in your wallet become worthless? What happens when money dies?

The first edition, published in 1975, has long been out of print. In 2010 Adam Fergusson and his publishers, witnessing the budget deficits and the quantitative easing in the U.S. and Britain, saw fit to bring out a new paperback edition. It has been selling briskly.

When money becomes worthless it doesn't matter how much you're paid. If the farmer refuses to accept cash you must barter your possessions for food. A grand piano, for example, for a sack of flour and a ham. But when you run out of things to barter, when you're sitting on the floor of a house with no furniture and empty cupboards, what then?

What then?
citizens_constitution_lipsky.jpgThe Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide by Seth Lipsky.

The Constitution of the United States is a deceptively short and simple document. Anyone can, and many of us do, carry a copy of it our shirt pocket. You can read through it in an hour. But be honest now: how much did you really understand?

The President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and everyone else down to the local sheriff and the lady who sweeps floors at the courthouse have been arguing about the meaning of every word in that document for going on two hundred and twenty-five years. It's not settled, and it never will be.

What we need is a guide, clause by clause, section by section, article by article, written in plain language that anybody can understand. No arguments; not the final word. Just a little background and history and explanation.
farnsworths_rhetoric.gifFarnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth.

Of the seven classical liberal arts, the first three, logic, grammar, and rhetoric, are referred to as the trivium, from which we get the expression "that's trivial." Would that it were.

You can find plenty of books on logic, and grammar is still taught (so we hope) in grade schools. But try — just try — finding a good book on rhetoric.

Up until now.

This is Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, and if the title echoes the sound of Fowler's Modern English Usage and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, that is deliberate. Ward Farnsworth has set out to write an indispensable reference that belongs on every reader's bookshelf. He has succeeded.
world_of_carbon.jpgThe World of Carbon: New, Revised Edition by Isaac Asimov.

My brother, who works in a medical lab, says this is the best intro to organic chemistry he's ever read. As geeky kids we grew up on Isaac Asimov, who at one point seemed to be cranking out a book a week.

Methane, ethane, propane, butane. Pentane, hexane, heptane, octane. For the first three chapters we deal with carbon and hydrogen, nothing else. Then we toss in the halogens: fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine. We get carbon tet, chloroform, plastics, and teflon. In chapter five we add oxygen, and things really get interesting: methyl, ethyl, and isopropyl. Alcohols, that is.

And so on. Every compound has a name and a story, and it's the stories that stick with you. Sometimes the science sticks too. Asimov was good at that.