We had our first session of Write Time last night, our monthly haven habituating for creative types, and we were delighted to see new faces along with those old hoary favorites. Write Time—as we mentioned in our little handout—is meant to provide a means by which a creative community can find itself and flourish, because there aren’t any books without writers. 

In 2014, Ursula K. Le Guin was given the National Book Award, and she gave a rather sharp speech when she accepted the award. You can see (and read the transcript) of her acceptance speech here, but we’d like to quote this paragraph: "Books, you know, they're not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words."

Ursula K. Le Guin left us on Monday. Her words are all we have left. There is still time to create change and make art. 

And speaking of keeping an eye on the clock, this week's stellar release is Charles C. Mann's new book, The Wizard and the Prophet. Now, we're partial to Charles's work around here, and not just because he contributed all of the great texture and core concept to Cimarronin, that sure-to-be-a-classic graphic novel about samurai fighting exiled African warriors among the Spanish silver mines in 17th century Mexico, but because he's the guy who wrote 1491 and 1493, two books which are fascinating revelations about the Americas both before and after the arrival of European explorers. 

Charles's new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, is about two gentlemen who, at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, became the lightning rods for two schools of thought about our relationship to the planet. The Wizard—one Norman Borlaug, the only plant breeder to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize—argues that it is only through technological innovation that we can figure out how to sustain humanity on this blue marble. The Prophet—William Vogt—argues that there are biological and ecological absolutes that we cannot overcome, and that our own only hope for survival lies in figuring out how to reduce our consumption and presence before we overwhelm the planet. 

Two very different approaches, and as Charles demonstrates in that same gregarious and insightful style that suffuses his previous books, the tug-of-war between these philosophical foundations is still going on today. 

And speaking of witty commentary about complex topics, we also have Helen Czerski's Storm in a Teacup, a lively exploration of how science manifests in our everyday lives. For instance: why does ketchup take so long to ooze out of a bottle? It's got something to do with snails and shear-thinning, apparently. And there's a perfectly simple explanation for why ducks don't get cold feet, which we have to admit, we never thought about before, but now we want to know. 

And speaking of things we want to know more about, Alastair Reynolds is back this week with Elysium Fire, and we're just going to quote the marketing copy on the back. "A smoldering tale of murderers, secret cultists, tampered memories, and unthinkable power, of bottomless corruption and overpowering idealism . . ." Uh, yes, please. 

And speaking of full-bore marketing speak, here's the copy for Judgment Road, the first book in Christine Feehan's new mass market hotter than hot hot hot series. "As the enforcer of the Torpedo Ink motorcycle club, Reaper lives for riding and fighting. He's a stone-cold killer who turns his wrath on those who deserve it. Feelings are a weakness he can't afford—until a gorgeous bartender gets under his skin. Near Sea Haven, Anya's touch is everything Reaper doesn't want--and it brands him to the bone. But when her secrets catch up to her, Reaper will have to choose between Anya and his club—his heart and his soul." 

Whew. It's terrible warm in here, isn't it? Almost like someone left the oven on or something. Maybe that's because we're trying to make Gretchen Price's Orange Rum Currant Cookies from her Modern Vegan Baking cookbook which came out this week. Yes, that's right. Rum is vegan. All is right in the world. (Later, we might try her recipe for Caramel Pecan Bars.)

And speaking of curious things we didn't know, our new favorite book that makes us snort with amusement and shake our heads about humanity is Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen's Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything. Thankfully, this isn't as "brief" as the title would lead you to believe, which is grand for the sheer lunacy under which our predecessors labored. Makes you wonder how much of what we take for learned stuff is just going to be our grandchildren's grandchildren's quackery. 

And on a different note, we'd like to offer a nod to an older title that we're delighted is still around. Kenneth Oppel's Airborn is a rousing YA adventure tale of airships and strange creatures that haunt the stratosphere. It's like Treasure Island meets Sky Pirates of Tomorrow. Who doesn't need more dirigibles in their lives? 

And we keep picking up Winston Groom's El Paso, a sweeping epic set during the Mexican Revolution by the guy who wrote Forrest Gump. In this novel, Pancho Villa steals the grandchildren of a thrill=seeking railroad tycoon known as the Colonel. Desperate to get the young-uns back, the Colonel heads to El Paso to round up a party of mercenaries desperate enough to hunt Pancho Villa in the Sierra Madre mountains. It's like The Magnificent Seven meets Raising Arizona. Sorta. But with more historical flavor. 

And before we ramble off into the weeds, let not forget that Jim Murray's Whisky Bible for 2018 is now out. An invaluable guidebook for when you wander into a strange establishment and order a glass of scotch and the server says, "We have a well scotch. Will that do?" Uh, let's go to the guidebook and see . . . 

And that's our list for the week. Remember to read some books and share your thoughts with others. Our next Write Time is February 20th. Come be creative with us. 

Overheard Out Behind The Store »»

PODGE: I say, Hodge. Look at this. It's a frozen cat. Someone left it out all night. 

HODGE: Oh, poor tabby. These winter nights are so brutal for these soft-furred domesticants. 

PODGE: Should we wrap it in some cardboard? 

HODGE: I doubt that will do much good, dear Podge. That cold snap wasn't cold or snappish enough to instantly freeze the very molecules of thought in this creature's brain. 

PODGE: What are you saying, Hodge?

HODGE: It is, alas, a departed cat. A mere memory of a cat. Soon to defrost and become a rather unwholesome pile of—

PODGE: Varnished vertrices! Did you see that?

HODGE: What? What? 

PODGE: It winked at me. 

HODGE: Now, Podge. Frozen cats do not wink. It must have been a trick of our moribund sun, limpidly lazing a beam of soft light through that gap in the fuliginous scurry of clouds. 

PODGE: There! It did it again!

HODGE: Podge, Podge, I say, ever so many times, graciously wriggling my tail. You are—

PODGE: Would you stop with the Kipling for a minute and look!

HODGE: My dear chap. One does not merely stop with Kipling. One must fulsomely dismount and displace oneself from the precious vestments of literary convention. 

PODGE: This cat isn't dead! We have to save it. Get some boxes!  

HODGE: Podge! Podge! Oh, look at him go. So earnest. I say, Podge. Wait for me!


COLBY: [exhales] Well, that didn't work. They could still see me. I'm going to have to try something else. Disappearing is hard work. How did the Cheshire Cat do it? 


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