2019-2020 Winter Reading List

2019-2020 Winter Reading List

Ten books queued on my bedside table for winter reading:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

What I Stand For is What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969 – 2017.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann.

A Life on the Middle West’s Never-ending Frontier by Willard L. ‘Sandy’ Boyd.

The Mosquito: A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond.

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond.

Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes.

Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss.

Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Selizer.

I will add some fiction, cooking, and gardening books as winter progresses. Feel free to share what you are reading this winter in the comments.

Local Food Politics Work Life

Third Month of Apple Season

Apple Crisp, Oct. 4, 2019

I picked low-hanging fruit from the Red Delicious apple tree last week. All that’s left is dangling red orbs high above the reach of my 20-foot ladder plus 10-foot picker.

Most of those apples will fall to the ground for deer and wildlife food.

I blame the nursery person who grafted this supposed “semi-dwarf” cultivar on the root stock. Either something was wrong from the git-go or the cultivar grew around the root stock and made it’s own roots in its 24 years since planting. The tree has produced in abundance — an investment that repaid itself many times over. I’m happy with the hundreds of pounds of apples I was able to harvest this year, even if I couldn’t reach every one of them.

It rained all day Saturday so I stayed home from the orchard. When touching base with my supervisor mid-morning, more staff than customers were in the sales barn. I used the day for house work, cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, organizing recycling, processing the last batch of tomato sauce, cooking reading and writing. I also took a nap.

The rain is suppressing my orchard paycheck with take home pay down 30 percent compared to last year. Nonetheless, with good health, Social Security, and my spouse’s small pension we are doing alright financially. I can spend some of the apple money on books and political work.

Friday a copy of What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969-2017 arrived via letter carrier. It will make excellent winter reading.

This week I purchased some items for our political organizing office in the county seat: paper towels, trash bags, paper cups and the like. I baked a large apple crisp which was used at yesterday’s volunteer training. I also contributed to Brad Kunkel’s campaign. He’s running for Johnson County Sheriff in a contested primary next June and is purchasing his “cowboy cards” this week. These are reasons we work an extra job even if the weather keeps the amount down.

A neighbor is hosting 2020 presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard next week, so I offered baked goods with apples for the event. I noticed one of the school board candidates will be in attendance. I support Elizabeth Warren, but I’m going because that’s what neighboring means.

With cooler overnight temperatures, the season is turning to fall in earnest. Soon I’ll glean the garden and prepare a bed for garlic planting. If it ever dries out I’ll collect grass clippings for mulch next year. I see a brush fire in the works to return the dead fuel of plants and trees to minerals for next year’s garden.

October is looking to be busy so I have to be organized, which is no hill for a climber. If only I could climb up and get those last dangling apples. The third month of apple season is another part of sustaining a life in a turbulent world.


Summer Reading 2019

Lake Macbride

For the next five weeks I’ll be covering weekdays for our editor Trish Nelson who is on summer break. This is my seventh year to provide summer posts, and more than ten years since I began posting at Blog for Iowa.

Regular readers know my topics: politics, foreign affairs, the climate crisis, the Iowa legislature and nuclear abolition. I’ll contribute those types of posts and more as I compete to gain your interest in a busy media landscape.

While Iowa lakes struggle to maintain safe water quality for summer activities like boating, low impact water sports, and swimming, Lake Macbride experienced its first-ever public health warnings about microcystins produced by blue-green algae. Department of Natural Resources staff recommended people not swim in the lake because of high levels of toxins in the water. While the swimming ban was lifted, there is another traditional summer activity for those skeptical about the water’s suitability: reading a book. Following is a list of books readers might consider for summer reading.

I know the 720-page Mueller Report published by The Washington Post sounds like a lot and maybe a straight through reading isn’t for everyone. However, read ten pages per day and it can be finished in 2.4 months.

Willard “Sandy” Boyd, the fifteenth president of the University of Iowa, published a memoir this year, A Life on the Middle West’s Never-ending Frontier. He was university president when I was an undergraduate and graduate student. Boyd remains active as Rawlings/Miller professor of Law at the university and is president emeritus. The memoir offers his views of the role of a public university and how it evolved since he first worked at the University of Iowa in 1954. I picked it for my personal connection to Boyd, but there is a lot more to the memoir, especially if your interest is in higher education.

If folks haven’t read a history of the great migration of black citizens fleeing the south in the 20th Century in search of a better life, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson offers an option. After fifteen years of research and writing, Wilkerson published the book in 2010. It “examines the three geographic routes that were commonly used by African Americans leaving the southern states between 1915 and the 1970s, illustrated through the personal stories of people who took those routes,” according to her Wikipedia page. Knowing the history of the Great migration is essential to maintaining progressive values.

What is a single book to better understand the climate crisis? I found an answer in The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells. Fair warning: there is not much good news within these 310 pages. What the book does do is present a broad array of the effects of the climate crisis and how they impact us now and near term. Wallace-Wells seeks to address denial that climate change poses immediate consequences that are both ever-changing and happening in front of us. Required reading for anyone advocating a sustainable life on Earth. That should include almost everyone.

Democrats expecting a fair fight in the 2020 election aren’t playing by the same rules as Republicans. When we consider how progressive values might again gain dominance in American culture it is important to learn how we arrived at this Trump moment. Two books highlight how we got here and are worth reading: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016) by Jane Mayer, and Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (2017) by Nancy MacLean. When people talk about getting money out of politics they are just flapping their gums if they don’t understand how it got in. These two books provide that insight and are essential progressive reading.

It seems like yesterday I was having a cup of coffee with Kurt Michael Friese in Iowa City. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. In A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland Friese offers a guided tour of the slow food movement in the Midwest around 2008. While a little dated, the book is worth reading for the landscape of Midwestern local food it presents and people in the local food movement. It’s also a way to remember his work as a chef.

That’s what’s on my summer reading list. Feel free to share what’s on yours in the comments.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


2019 Summer Reading

Summer Reading

The myth of relaxing on a towel at a beach, sunglasses and sunscreen on, reading a book may not exist for most of us in Iowa. The beach nearest us has been closed in recent seasons because of the risk of exposure to microcystin and E. coli bacteria, both harmful to human health.

Nevertheless, reading is an important part of summer activities, and essential for people engaged in society. Our home owners association has a monthly meeting at the public library where staff politely boots us out in June and July because it falls on the same night as the summer reading program. Summer reading is one of the most important programs at a public library.

When I write “reading,” I mean books. A lot of our time is spent reading news articles which, while important, does not involve the kind of commitment as reading a book cover-to-cover. I started the Goodreads Reading Challenge last year and it helped me stay focused on reading. I’ve read 16 books this year and you can see which ones on my Reading List page.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of ten books on my bedside table for reading this summer:

Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself by Jill Biden.

The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction by Cindy Crosby.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore.

The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Pacific by Simon Winchester.

Milkman by Anna Burns.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming by David Wallace-Wells.

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein.

Energy: A Human Story by Richard Rhodes.

While beaches may be closed due to environmental pollution, I plan to find a shady spot on our property or a comfortable chair inside to crack open a book from time to time this summer. Please do leave a comment with what you are reading this summer below.

Happy summer reading!

Home Life Writing

Used Book Sale and Other Necessities

Sign for the Book Sale at the Solon Public library

Yesterday was the annual used book sale at our library.

In addition to clearing the stacks of unpopular or outdated books, the community donates books, media and labor to manage the sale.

Each item is reasonably priced and this year’s proceeds were about $800. That’s a lot of $0.50 and $1.00 books.

I spent ten bucks on ten past issues of the Wapsipinicon Almanac, three large format picture books about Yellowstone National Park, the Vietnam War, and the Marx Brothers, one fiction book, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and a book of poetry, Songs of a Sourdough by Robert W. Service. I spent part of the afternoon reading Service’s poetry about the Yukon. First published in 1907, the copy I got is more than 100 years old. Thoughts of surviving bitter cold, wolves, pine trees, bonfires to stay warm, dog sleds, and the gibbous moon roamed my consciousness for the rest of the day.

It is doubtful I needed more books. The measure of a person’s library is less about reading or having read every book in it. A personal library is more a reminder of what we don’t know. I don’t feel guilty having more books than time to read them. I’m lucky to have a stable home life and the space to fit in a few more books after a used book sale in town. The house hasn’t exploded… yet.

I’ve been buying clothing this year. In 2018 I spent $281, and this year I already spent $150. T-shirts, jeans, socks and underwear, along with a few sweatshirts and woven shirts make up my wardrobe. For funerals and weddings I keep one pair of dress slacks, a good shirt, some neckties, two pair of shined shoes from when I worked in the Chicago Loop in 1991, and a blue blazer. Judging from what people wear to funerals and memorial services, I could get by with a decent pair of jeans, a woven shirt and a newer pair of sneakers.

There was a gift of four t-shirts and a sweatshirt from my spouse. The t-shirts are for the shepherdess to imprint next time she silk screens an image from the farm. I missed out last year because most of my shirts already had something printed on them.

The big 2018 expense was a pair of steel-toed boots to wear on my shifts at the home, farm and auto supply store. Last week, after my shift, I bought a new overcoat using my employee discount.

Me: I need a new coat.
Cashier: You really do.
Me: I know… big grease stains, broken snaps and zipper… it’s disreputable.
Cashier: Oh my!
Me: It will be my first Carhartt… this is Walls. Well I do have a pair of Carhartt bib overalls.
Cashier: Every man has those.

When I worked in the Loop I quickly wore out the pants in my suits. I picked styles where I could get multiple pairs of matching slacks. I don’t need fancy work clothes at the home, farm and auto supply store where the main issue is the quality of Wrangler jeans purchased on discount for less than $20. The denim must be of an inferior quality because holes show up in unexpected places after washing. Too, the radio and box cutter wear a hole just below my belt line on the left side. I asked the Wrangler sales representative about this at a recent trade show. He didn’t have any good answers except to buy more expensive jeans. I didn’t mention my low wages.

Food, shelter and clothing are traditional basic needs. Add potable water, clean air and sanitation and that’s still really basic. A good night’s sleep? Needed, but optional. Without these things, the need for survival dominates our daily lives. Education, healthcare, transportation and internet access are basic needs according to Wikipedia, but seriously, while important, those are extra when it comes to survival.

A lot of people would have us return to life as basic survival. For our family, years of hard work made us financially stable and built a foundation so we don’t often worry about survival. As long as there are used book sales and employee discounts at the home, farm and auto supply store we’ll be alright. Knowing a bunch of farmers and a good auto mechanic helps.

Wolves are mentioned in the history of Lincoln County, Minnesota where my grandmother was born. Wolves can be an issue, but mostly one read about in books about the Yukon… or Iowa and Minnesota at the time of settlement. As we live our modern lives it is important to remember there were once wolves, even if their meaning is lost for want of an education. Education is a salve for our worries. That’s part of why library used book sales remain important.