reality is weirder than you think

Category: Books (page 1 of 2)

Backwards Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Backwards book reviews are when I revisit a book that I’ve already read. Before I read the book, I’ll write down everything I can remember about it. Afterward, I’ll write up my thoughts and see how well my memories stacked up.

A Wrinkle in Time is one of those major books in my childhood. I was probably 11 or 12 when I first read it, and it absolutely captivated me with its rich storytelling, flights of fantasy, and yet its focus on intelligence and rationality. After Wrinkle, I read nearly every Madeline L’Engle book I could get my hands on (with the exception of A House Like a Lotus which I put down because it was too mature for me at the time) throughout middle school until I reached Walking on Water in high school. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art remains an influential book on me to this day. The sequel to WrinkleA Wind in the Door, is possibly more influential, but that’s another matter for another day.

Let’s see what I can remember about  A Wrinkle in Time. And how much I can keep Wrinkle separate from Wind.

Wrinkle is the story of Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace, and I think her friend Calvin O’Keefe saving the world from what current me would identify as totalitarianism. On a stormy night, she is visited by an omen (Louise the snake) out by an old gnarled tree by a stone fence, and soon meets the three witches–Mrs Who, Which, and Whatsit–who teach the kids how to tesseract and take them on a goose chase through the universe. There is something wrong with the universe that they have to find and fix, but they don’t know what it is at first. (Honestly, that sounds to me like a heavily intuitive way to go about things, but I’ve been thinking a lot about intuition lately. It would not surprise me if MLE wrote highly intuitive books, considering her propensity to write about families of highly intelligent people.) I think the problem has something to do with their father? Maybe he’s kidnapped or something.

The witches try to take them to a 2D planet, where their 3D forms are squished and where they cannot survive. Eventually, they end up on what the current version of me would call Totalitarian Planet, where all the houses are the same and the yards are the same and the kids play the same games and even the balls bounce in unison. UGH. This is ground zero, where the wrongness is, and they find that the planet is ruled by what is basically a disembodied brain, demanding that everything on the planet bend to its rule, enforced dramatically by a rhythm. To avoid getting trapped by this, the kids sing songs and nursery rhymes in different time signatures. Somehow they save the day.

Then they end up at home, which is comforting and full of family, including their mother and the twin brothers Sandy and Dennys (I think–it was a strange name to me), with a little bit more affection for their prescient snake.

Thematically speaking, it was a story about not letting someone or something else rule your life, and I remember MLE talking in an interview about originally making the villain a disembodied heart, but that she ended up thinking that a disembodied brain would be basically more of a tyrant. I’m not sure if I agree with her, but it is true that strictness without the temperance of love or mercy is never the way to go.

The characters in the book are full of creativity and ingenuity, are committed to the truth, and are patient. I think at certain points Charles Wallace bogs them down because he’s only like 6 years old or something, but they manage to make it work without sacrificing him. The power of humanity over tyranny.

I always loved how MLE wove together an idealized New England academic family with a highly imaginative yet totally plausible fantasy elements. So many of the ideas that MLE explores seem to test the boundaries of reality, but I feel like the events in her novels–this series especially–were simply dramatized versions of what might actually be already happening in the world.

Like Jordan B Peterson takes everyday tasks and draws out their cosmic significance, MLE takes the world that we live in and heightens it to a point where you can see the spiritual battles taking place. I could tell you the battlefield for A Wind in the Door, but I’ll have to save that for my review on that book. Wrinkle escapes me, although I may have already hit on it: totalitarianism and the utter importance of free will.

Virginia Woolf ran a publishing house and it’s inspiring AF

When Virginia Woolf was around my age, she convinced her husband to buy a dog, a house, and a printing press. (I have to find a husband before I can convince him of such things, but nobody said we had to do this in the same order.) What started out as a hobby, and a way to dodge harsh criticism from mainstream publishers but still put out books, ended up as a legit publishing house that ran for 30 years and published people like TS Eliot and Sigmund Freud. (And of course Virginia herself.)

Leonard Woolf said that one of the reasons for the success of the Hogarth Press was that they had no overheads. The printing was done in their home, they didn’t pay themselves for their time and any profit they made was always reinvested.

Sounds a lot like running a blog, actually.

I saw some of their early products today. They’re not fancy. The later books were, with dust jackets and cleanly-designed covers. But the early ones? They were simply bound with stitches, with covers printed on colored stock or fabric. Some were really tiny, pocket-book sized (pamphlets, really) while others were normal-book sized.

As their confidence grew, the Woolfs started to sell their books by subscription. They compiled two lists of subscribers, group A, those who would buy all the Hogarth Press publications, and group B, who could be notified of new publications and would then select the titles they wanted.

A subscription model you say? Like, I don’t know, an email list? Gee. I don’t have an email list yet, but perhaps it’s time to start.

Certainly I don’t agree with most of the politics of Virginia and Leonard–and I definitely will not pattern my death after her–but I am absolutely delighted to learn about their press and how they grew it from a tiny little baby into something that had legs and made money and published actual legit works.

Lessons we learn

  1. You absolutely can be an author and publisher at the same time
  2. It’s okay to start small selling to your friends
  3. Don’t be afraid to scale up when the time comes
  4. Always keep track of why you started doing it in the first place

Backwards book review: Amusing Ourselves to Death

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is an interesting look at the way people engage and interact with the world.

I first read it six or seven years ago, before my eyeballs were fully opened to the magnitude of fake news and general non-truth-seekiness that pervades the world.

Somebody on Twitter mentioned in this week, since it’s pretty relevant to what’s happening in our world these days–the degeneration of civil discourse, people who are unable to converse beyond sound bites, the dissipation of nuance.

It’s on the docket to read again, but I figured it might be fun to write about what I remember about the book before rereading it. That way, we can see what stuck from the first time around. Or we can laugh at what I completely misremembered.

It’ll be fun! Like turning a book review inside out.

Here’s what I remember about Amusing Ourselves to Death:

  • I think the main idea of the book was that because of television and other visual media, we are becoming a post-literate society. The primacy of the written word is giving way to the primacy of the image, which doesn’t allow for the precision and nuance that the written word does. (I’m reminded of emojis when I think of this.)
  • Postman points out that many people are afraid of falling into a 1984-style linguistic dictatorship, but Postman sees our society going more the way of A Brave New World. People abandon the pursuit of truth in pursuit of feelings (“the feelies”) of their own volition.
  • I remember Postman contrasting the ability of people in the past to hold long arguments in their memories with our short sound-bite attention spans now. I believe this was illustrated with the Lincoln-Douglass debates, and how both the debaters and the crowd needed to additional notes or written material to make their cases or keep up with the conversation.
  • I remember disagreeing with him about something. I can’t recall if it was something about his tone (dang kids get off my lawn) or if it was something related to visual communication (because sometimes a diagram is more efficient in conveying information than a paragraph).
  • But I do remember becoming very uncomfortable with the idea of seeking amusement or entertainment above all. So much is done now FOR THE LULZ, or in my case when I’m stuck at work, for the amusement-factor that I wonder if we’re losing an element of the serious and the sacred. Not totally sure it’s in the book, but definitely related.

I think that just about wraps it up.

Will report back in when I’ve reread the book.


New Adult and College Romance

Market research for one of my undisclosed new year’s goals.

1 Midnight Blue LJ Shen $2.99 5 (807) KU
2 The Rebound Winter Renshaw $0.99 4.5 (364) KU
3 Turn (Country Generations) Cora Brent $0.99 5 (183) KU
4 Claiming His Mountain Bride Madison Faye $0.99 4.5 (196) KU
5 The Dom’s Bride: A BDSM Romance Penelope Bloom $0.99 4.5 (150) KU
6 Amber (Red Hot Love Series Book 1) Elle Casey $4.99 4 (38) KU
7 Bastards & Whiskey (Top Shelf Book 1) Alta Hensley $0.99 4.5 (208) KU
8 #Starstruck (A #Lovestruck Novel) Sariah Wilson $3.99 5 (201) KU
9 A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy, Book 1) Deborah Harkness $1.99 4.5 (5,452)
10 Delivering Her Secret: A Secret Baby Romance Kira Blakely $0.99 4.5 (294) KU
11 Saving Mel: A Bad Boy Romance Rye Hart $0.99 5 (302) KU
12 Big Man Penny Wylder $3.99 4.5 (206) KU
13 Mountain Man’s Baby Plan Nikki Chase $0.99 4.5 (66) KU
14 Ruthless Kira Blakely $0.99 4.5 (340) KU
15 Dirty Obsession Ella Miles $0.99 4.5 (59) KU
16 Inserparable Siobhan Davis $0.99 4.5 (183) KU
17 The Better Brother: A Bad Boy Romance Rye Hart $0.99 4.5 (337) KU
18 The Matchmaker’s Playbook [Kindle in Motion] (Wingmen Inc. 1) Rachel Van Dyken $4.99 4.5 (761) KU
19 Surprise Daddy Nicole Snow $0.99 4.5 (257) KU
20 Big Stranger’s Baby: A Bad Boy Secret Baby Romance BB Hamel $0.99 4.5 (195) KU

Some observations:

Be on Kindle Unlimited. The only book that’s not on KU is a “legit” novel that’s been around for years.

Bad boys and alpha males sell. So do secrets. The “secret baby” theme is a little surprising to me.

Price at $0.99 unless you have really good reviews.

Don’t be afraid to be obvious.

Put a muscley shirtless man on the cover. Also cursive text.

Pen name should be short, punchy, memorable, and googlable (ie Sariah over Sarah).

The unlikely influence of Earthsea

Ursula K LeGuin died recently. Her book A Wizard of Earthsea was one of my biggest influences growing up.

I’ve never read much else from her, although I should. The original Earthsea trilogy was good, but the 4th book veered into weird territory that didn’t make sense to me. I’m old-school and archetypal like that.

I’ve heard that she disliked her earlier writings (like my favorite) because they were too traditional and patriarchal, and felt like she “found her voice” when she started injecting feminism in her work. I read The Disposessed, which was interesting for a while but ended sour and preachy. I hate it when books do that.

I keep meaning to read The Left Hand of Darkness. Maybe now is a good time to do that.

When I lived in Portland, I met her once. She signed my copy of A Wizard of Earthsea and was very quiet and writerly. It turns out I lived in her neighborhood for a few years, but I never passed her on the sidewalks or in the park.

Here is my favorite passage from Earthsea. Our hero, Ged, has just escaped the embodiment of evil–the shadow–only to fall into temptation of unlimited power by Benderesk, Lord of the Terrenon, and the Lady Serret. “Only darkness can defeat the dark,” she says.

Ged’s eyes cleared, and his mind. He looked down at Serret. “It is light that defeats the dark,” he said stammering,–“light.”

As he spoke he saw, as plainly as if his own words were the light that showed him, how indeed he had been drawn here, lured here, how they had used his fear to lead him on, and how they would, once they had him, have kept him. They had saved him from the shadow, indeed, for they did not want him to be possessed by the shadow until he had become a slave of the Stone, then they would let the shadow into the walls, for a gebbeth was a better slave even than a man. If he had once touched the Stone, or spoken to it, he would have been utterly lost. Yet, even as the shadow had not quite been able to catch up with him and seize him, so the Stone had not been able to use him–not quite. He had almost yielded, but not quite. He had not consented. It is very hard for evil to take hold of an unconsenting soul.

I love A Wizard of Earthsea because it is a little book about fear–where it comes from, how it chases you, and how you and you alone must stare it in the face and defeat it.  You might think that Dune is a book about fear. Dune does indeed have the great Litany Against Fear, but it is one player on a stage of many things. The hero’s journey in Earthsea revolves around fear. It is an intimate, terrifying portrait.

This passage reminds me how easily we–especially those of us who understand some of the unseen undergirdings of the universe–can be tempted by power that is much bigger than us, that reveals all that we want to know and be. Power that would ultimately enslave us, because it is false.

This passage reminds me to keep up the good fight, and not give in to temptation. And yet, it also gives me hope–for even though I will stumble, I do not consent.

That idea–that evil cannot take you without your consent–is I think what marks the heroic men and women who stare evil in the face to investigate or prosecute or report or even just bear witness and who do not give into it.

We are not perfect. We will tremble. But evil cannot touch us if we do not allow it.

There’s a reason we are given a shield of faith and a sword of the spirit.

One of my failings in life is that I have not faced my fear, my shadow self, in a manner that would be worthy of Ged. I have stared fear in the face, certainly, and lived my life, but there are still places where fear has its claws burrowed in.

Now. Rewind to 2011, when I was first introduced to the band Gatsbys American Dream. I will have to write a whole post about them. Writing the paragraphs above made me tear up, but trying to put into words how I feel about Gatsbys makes me remember why I hate the world.

Their masterpiece is Volcano. Musically, it is pop-punk but asymmetrical and interesting. The songwriting is delicious. The album is cohesive, wrapping around to reference itself with music and lyrics. It is a beautiful package tied up with a little bow (my favorite).

And then. You barely hear it, a plaintive but insistent piano melody. It builds in intensity, and you finally catch ahold of some lyrics:

My pride ripped a hole in the world that set loose…a shadow….

I sail into jaws of the dragon: a beast before me, a shadow behind me….

“Is this…a song about Earthsea?” you think to yourself. “I thought I was the only person in the WORLD who cares about that little book.” You listen again. It still fits. You are excited, but realize that the likelihood of a lesser-known song of an indie band is highly unlikely to be based on your 12-year-old self’s favorite book. You decide that whatever you learn about the lyrics to that song, you’ll always pretend it’s about Earthsea even if it isn’t.

Lyrically, all of Volcano based on science fiction and fantasy. Books, video games, television. Ender’s Game makes an appearance, as does Interview with a Vampire.

Rest assured, friend, this really is a song about Sparrowhawk and his shadow.

I’m intrigued: Elliott Jaques

Add another name to the “controversial Canadian” category (I’m listening to a conversation between Jordan Peterson and Stefan Molyneux as I type this): Elliott Jaques.

As a Millennial whose overly-earnest side is still libertarian, I’ve never been a huge fan of the bureaucracy. As I’ve spent time in medium and large university bureaucracies, I’ve come to despise them even more. When they grow dehumanizing, they grow evil.

Enter Elliott Jaques, a man who wrote a book called A General Theory of Bureaucracy. You’d think he would be a pallid, cardboard fragilista….but I’m not sure that’s the case.

So far, he has the hallmarks of being a truth-teller–polarizing and mostly despised in his field, and what I’ve read of his works so far has broadened my understanding of the universe rather than muddling it. He also cites entropy, much like Steve Keen in his forthcoming book on economics.

He’s also written a book that cites “social justice,” although to be fair he wrote it before the SJW cancer started to grow. We’ll see.

What I like about his thinking so far is how he has brought in the concept of TIME to hierarchies, and has drawn up a Platonic form of hierarchy. In addition to a worker’s ability to complete tasks, the different levels of jobs are defined by the time of their longest project.

Stratum I: These jobs might include shop floor operator, salesclerk, or general police officer; most work is routine, and supervision is commonplace for new tasks. Such jobs are good fits for “level one” people, who can cope with thinking about a time horizon of one day to three months.

Stratum II: First-line managers, shop-floor supervisors, foremen, proprietors of some small businesses, and police lieutenant positions have a felt-fair pay level of one-and-one-half times what a Stratum I employee might get. This job fits people with a three-month to one-year time horizon (who can handle assignments that take that long to fulfill).

Stratum III: Department heads, workshop managers, owners of multistore franchises, and police captains would make felt-fair pay that was three times that of a Stratum I employee. Stratum III managers typically know personally all the people below them in a hierarchy. Many professionals with high technical skill levels operate at this level, managing just a few people. People with a time horizon of one to two years can handle this.

Stratum IV: A plant manager, editor of a large media operation, lab manager, or any line leader with responsibility for diverse constituencies would earn felt-fair pay six times that of Stratum I. Appropriate time horizon: two to five years.

Stratum V: Positions at this level include large-company divisional executives, business-unit heads (at the vice presidential level), production directors, and CEOs of 5,000-employee organizations. Most “zealot” jobs are probably Stratum V positions. Felt-fair pay: 12 times Stratum I. Time horizon: five to 10 years.

Stratum VI: From here on out, the air gets rarefied. Positions include CEOs of companies with 20,000 people, or executive vice presidents and business-unit leaders of larger companies. Felt-fair pay: 24 times Stratum I. Time horizon: 10 to 20 years.

Stratum VII: Positions include CEOs of most Fortune 500 companies, high-level civil servants (like the Sir Humphrey character in “Yes Minister”), and other leaders whose decisions might (or should) be sweeping enough to take decades to fully realize. Felt-fair pay: 48 times Stratum I. Time horizon: 20 to 50 years.

Stratum VIII: The CEOs of General Electric Company, the General Motors Corporation, and other super-corporations have Stratum VIII jobs, with a felt-fair pay level 96 times that of Stratum I. If you are chosen for such a job, you’d better be one of those rare people (like Jack Welch) with an innate time horizon of 50 to 100 years, or your corporation will probably decline.

Stratum IX and higher: Now we move beyond the mere CEO level, to the geniuses who operate on behalf of society’s far future, or whose work embodies extraordinary complexity … for example, Christ, Buddha, Confucius, Mozart, Galileo, Einstein, Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and a few business leaders like Konosuke Matsushita and Alfred Sloan, who graduate from running Stratum VIII companies to looking out for society’s development. Most of us cannot count a single Stratum IX person among our acquaintances. And their felt-fair pay? Well, James Joyce spent his life in poverty.


I have so many questions about the influence of this guy. Is he the source of the time-preference theory that so many in the alt-right have applied to sociology instead of individual capacity? Has Donald Trump read him? How would he and Nassim Nicholas Taleb get along?

Or…is he just full of crap?

I’m reading one of his books. We’ll find out.

Coming soon

The Alt-Hero We Deserve

I will admit, I’m not the hugest fan of comics. (Usually the stories are too simplistic and the art does nothing to further the plot or characterization.) I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn why other people like them so much, to no avail.

The visual mode of storytelling is intriguing, so I support them in theory, if not in fact. There are a few that I adore. WatchmenTintinHellboy.

But here’s the kicker: I’ve stopped reading any comic books at all these days because they’re so SJW converged. It seems like all comics these days are full of social justice this, gender bending that, all for GREAT JUSTICE (which we all know is code for “kick the white man”).

Enter Alt*Hero.

Vox Day and his crew at Castalia House have turned their evil eye toward superhero comics, and have cooked up a premise that promises to be entertaining even if it’s a little rough around the edges.

That floating star bugs the crap out of me tho

I like the idea of turning the concept of the EU into a superhero justice squad league (bad guys, of course). Alt*Hero looks to be in step with the spirit of the times, especially the rising backlash against central planning and soy and bugmen and Antifa.

The Freestartr for the project blew past the initial funding goal mere hours after the project was launched, which shows that there’s more of a market for alt-comics than I had initially thought. I figured it would get funded, but certainly not this fast.

If this project anything that’s even one-fifth as good as Watchmen, it’ll be worth it.

Milo* actually does something funny: The Antifa Handbook

While I’m becoming less of a fan of Milo and his antics (the schtick is becoming too rehearsed for my taste; I hope he’s still reaching people but I’m so far down the rabbit hole to really connect with many of his ideas anymore), I’m a big fan of taxonomy-type illustrations and character sketches.

For instance, I’m delighted to find that Your Scene Sucks is still online, which I highly recommend if you want to relive the scene kid glory days of the 2006-2011 era. One of the featured types is even what I view to be a precursor to the topic of today’s post, the straight-edge mosher. I had a few friends in college who were like this, with the bandana-masked protest and the veganism.

Oh, and crustpunks. Never forget the crustpunk (not that you could if you smelled one).

Anyway, in honor of the Free Speech Week that may or may not be happening at Berkeley, Milo has released The Guide to Antifa. It’s a tongue-in-cheek taxonomy that in 10 years will send this year’s crop of college graduates into a nostalgic reverie about their college years, much like Your Scene Sucks did for me just now.


AIDS Skrillex is my favorite of the bunch, first broadcast by Owen Shroyer, named by /pol/ and lovingly depicted by the artist Vey. “AIDS Skrillex” is the most stupidly funny name; I hope that the channer who created it is proud of himself.

The SOY meme has been the best thing to come along for a while now (you know it’s good when you can use it offhand in a conversation with your parents and the track with it). Anything that can spread the word further is a good thing.

The more we can deride and laugh at Antifa types, the better. They tend to be incredibly self-important, so laughter gets to them in ways that “free speech” or self-defense moves at a legal public gathering never will.

* The handbook was written by Allum Bokhari, not Milo. Surprise, surprise.

The upside of upside-down world

Gather ’round, children, and let me tell you a story.

Many years ago, before universities passed out pacifiers and blankies at freshman orientation, I went to college. During that time, I majored in Old English Books and Visual Communication Design. English was administered through the traditional Harvard model. The VCD degree, while still 100% university accredited and therefore curriculum mapped within an inch of its life, was taught by people who actually worked in the real world. Instead of pretending we were all intellectuals and writing paper after paper, we put our work up on the wall and critiqued it.

It was in my VCD classes I learned that writings from real-world practitioners (like graphic designers) were eons more insightful than anything produced by the English Department Academics. Even when I read pieces by people with views I wildly disagreed with, like Michael Beirut, I could appreciate the insight honed by real-world experience. Reading non-academics was like climbing out of Plato’s cave.

Now, did I apply this experience and run screaming from academia? No I did not. But that is a story for another time.

Let’s talk about Paul Arden’s book WHATEVER YOU THINK, THINK THE OPPOSITE.

Full of ideas that you could write down on a blank page

This is a book written by a designer. An ad man. Someone who played long and hard in the marketplace of ideas. It’s a clever little book full of advice. (And full of visual puns.)

I grabbed it off my bookshelf for a re-read after AJA Cortes tweeted another fount of advice on how to dig yourself out of a 10 year hole today.

You know why? It’s a lot of the same timeless advice.

The premise is this: you are where you are in life because of how you think. If you’re thinking the same things as everybody else, you end up like everybody else (even if your idol is Hunter S Thompson). To be great, think for yourself, develop your own point of view, and start doing the opposite of what you think you should do.

From page 20:

It’s not because you are making the wrong decisions, it’s because you are making the right ones.

We try to make sensible decisions based on the facts in front of us.

The problem with making sensible decisions is that so is everyone else.

Fear not, Paul Arden designed a beautifully bold spread to persuade you to make bad decisions. (Or as Jordan B Peterson would say, “do it badly.”) If you start to think differently, your life will start to take a different direction.


Arden also delivers some advice on ideas:

The effort of coming to terms with things you do not understand makes them all more valuable when you do grasp them.

This is given in the context of art appreciation, but it can apply to just about anything in life, from fitness to creativity to developing business ideas. Guess what? You have to do the work. But the work is important.

So is your ego and how you present yourself.

The design of this book is just as much visual as it is written. Arden mixes the ideas, the visuals, how the visuals are presented, and all the text takes form in short, punchy sentences. Advertising sentences. Twitter sentences.

It’s practical, motivational advice that’s fun to read, makes you think, and readable in 30 minutes or less.

Highly recommend.

Oh, and university? Arden says stay far, far away. Too bad this book was published when I was already walking that dark path.

Go read Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite.

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