On Hamlet's Blackberry by William Powers

Powers joins the ranks of people who are critical of our ‘always-on’ connected world and calls for more people to take time away from our screens to talk to other people, both strangers and our families. I’m broadly sympathetic to the critique Powers makes but his insights are not original. There are many others who have been expressing the same concerns for much longer. This book was published in 2010 and takes most of its examples from newspaper and magazine stories.

On The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Brust and White tell the story of a small group of people who have been manipulating human history for millennia by gradually changing people’s plans and minds. The Incrementalists store their own memories in the Garden, like a memory palace which can be shared with others in the group. When an Incrementalists dies a new person is chosen to inherit the memories of the dead member. The plot of the book hinges around a rogue member who kills herself in order to force the group to do things the way she wants them done.

On Stoner by John Williams

A mid-century classic which is little known. William Stoner grows up a poor farmer’s son, he goes to college to study agriculture but becomes enamored with English literature and decides to stop farming and get a PhD. He spends his entire life at the University of Missouri as an English professor, he marries, has a child, has an affair, and fights with his boss. His marriage quickly becomes loveless as his wife fights to take control of his daughter’s life, ultimately destroying her personality.

Uneven Development by Neil Smith

Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space by Neil Smith is a seminal work in marxist geography first published in 1984. He and David Harvey were two of the great interpreters of Marx and geography during the 1980s and are still active today. Nature and space are, according to Smith, produced through social interactions and altered, over time, by the development of capitalism. The developmental story is the standard one found in Marx, starting with the use of nature to fulfill human needs, the gradual accumulation of surplus value from nature, and the eventual arrival of capitalism, which extends accumulation into a worldwide phenomenon.

True Crime - Columbine

It’s been ten years since Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris stormed Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, and killed thirteen people. Dave Cullen has just published the definitive book on the crime titled simply “Columbine”. I read through it in less than a day. Ten years after an event the key part of any retelling of a story is often a reevaluation of facts that we thought we knew: that Harris and Klebold were outsiders, that they targeted jocks and popular kids, that they were part of the trenchcoat mafia, that Cassie Bernall said she believed in God before being shot.

Turning YA

I just finished reading a wonderful short novel “The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy “ by Jeanne Birdsall It is about the summer vacation of a family of four, very independent sisters and their widowed father. They rent a cabin on a large estate in the Berkshire Mountains. During their stay they meet a young boy who lives on the neighboring estate.

A is for August and Allergies

Things have been quiet here at EcEc for the last few days. Preparations for the upcoming semester are gearing up. Ragweed pollen is high, my eyes are itchy and swollen, and I haven’t been reading much online or elsewhere. Instead I’ve been watching movies and television episodes on DVD. I watched Heat again because I was curious to see if it was as annoying as I remembered. I enjoyed Miami Vice when it came out earlier this summer, and liked Collateral on DVD.

An Academic Utopia

Last weekend I was in need of some silly summer movie fun. Coincidentally, I was thinking about academia and the institutions of higher education. On a lark I went to see Accepted. I read the plot synopsis - rejected high school student creates his own ‘fake’ college to convince his parents that he is really going to amount to something - and thought it’d be a mild summer diversion. To my surprise it was a revolutionary reaction to current academia.

Lords of War

Even the movies I’ve been watching, not to mention the news I’ve been reading, have been about violence lately. This weekend it was two approaches to the same problem: the industry of killing. First up was Lord of War, a recent Nicholas Cage flick about a young Ukrainian man who emigrates to the United States and becomes an arms dealer. What better way to make money, huh? America is, indeed, the land of opportunity.

Rhetorics of Choice and Rhetorics of Freedom

I recently watched two documentaries, Hell House and Revolution OS, back-to-back and want to offer some insights I noticed about the different notions of choice and freedom that both of these films reveal. Hell House is about a Halloween display put on by a church in Texas. The display is modeled on a haunted house, but instead of ghosts and goblins, the villain is sin. Of course, sin comes in a very conservative Christianist wrapper.