Mimsy: Books

Newaygo, Michigan: Bay Leaf Books—Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

With a population of under 2,000 the last time anyone checked, you could be excused for thinking there’s not a market for a great used bookstore. It is the definition of a sleepy little town. There are a lot of such towns in Newaygo County, and throughout this area of Michigan. I grew up in one, and it did not have a used bookstore or new bookstore. I got my comic books at the local grocery (which meant I missed a lot of issues in multi-issue stories) and for books I had to wait until we drove into Muskegon to shop at the supermarket there.

However, Newaygo is known for its antique stores that attract tourists, and perhaps that improves the odds of a bookstore making a successful go at it. If you are antiquing in Newaygo and you love books, you should stop into Bay Leaf Books.

The first time I visited them, I found two books on my want list that I’d been looking for for a long time: The Best of Leigh Brackett, and the Best of Frank Russell.

Both times I’ve visited I’ve found books that weren’t on my list but which would have been had I known about them.

They have a very nice science fiction section, as well as a whole lot of other books. They also have a local history section if that sort of thing interests you.

There’s no question, if you enjoy used bookstores, that you’ll want to stop at Bay Leaf when you’re near Newaygo.

Bay Leaf Books
79 State Road
Newaygo, MI

Dec. 1, 2015

Green Magic Jack Vance $1.75 mass market paperback
Intellectuals and Society Thomas Sowell $9.00 hardcover

June 9, 2015

Seven Footprints to Satan A. Merritt $1.00 mass market paperback
Conan the Rebel Poul Anderson $1.50 mass market paperback
The Fox Woman & Other Stories A. Merritt $1.50 mass market paperback
The Best of Eric Frank Russell Eric Frank Russell $1.75 mass market paperback

While you’re in town, if it happens to be a Tuesday, stop off at the Newaygo Library. At the time I’m writing this (and both times I’ve visited them) they were open on Tuesdays from 11 to 2. The Virginia Ciupidro Bookstore isn’t very big, just a small room, but it’s worth stopping at. Due to their limited hours I’ve only been there once, but that day involved picking up four hardcovers, including two by Advise & Consent author Allen Drury.

I generally wouldn’t recommend pulling off of the highway for one, but when you’re already in the area the local public library will often have a decent room of used books for fundraising purchases. And unlike bookstores, libraries usually have web sites.

Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy—Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Basic Economics is a very readable book on economics. It’s an important topic, because unlike every other complex field, “from botany to brain surgery”, we cannot avoid taking part: while we can, and usually should, refuse to perform brain surgery, we should not refuse to vote for politicians who have wide-ranging economic effects. In some states we even get to vote on initiatives.

This book is “a citizen’s guide” because it helps citizens—specifically, voters—understand the tradeoffs between particular economic decisions. Too often, the solutions proposed by politicians are unlikely to reach their stated goals. This book teaches economics in a simple manner that still shows people how to understand cause and effect.

The basic definition of economics that the author uses is that “economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.”

The hardest lesson in this book is that there are no free choices. “Because an economy deals with scarce resources that have alternative uses, every benefit has a cost in the alternative uses that could have been made of the same resources that created a particular benefit.”

What a “free market” does in an economy is spread the cost-benefit analysis out to the people who produce and consume those resources. The alternative, an economy in which everything is run by an elite, “has thrown away much of the knowledge, insights, and talents of most of its people.”

What Sowell shows, using examples and logic, is that when the market is unobstructed, “…resources tend to flow to their most valued uses.” When governments try to obstruct the market, it is because they want to elevate their values above the values of the people in their polity.

Prices coordinate the use of resources, so that only that amount is used for one thing which is equal in value to what it is worth to others in other uses. That way, a price-coordinated economy does not flood people with cheese to the point where they are sick of it, while others are crying out in vain for more yogurt or ice cream. Absurd as such a situation would be, it has happened many times in economies where prices do not allocate scarce resources. The Soviet economy, for example, often had unsalable goods piling up in warehouses while people were waiting in long lines trying to get other things that they wanted. The efficient allocation of scarce resources which have alternative uses is not just an abstract notion of economists. It determines how well or how badly millions of people live.

Benson, Arizona: Mary Ann’s Mostly Books—Tuesday, January 26th, 2016
Mary Ann’s Mostly Books

It looks like the kind of storefront that would have a pickle barrel and a couple of old men in rocking chairs out front.

When driving on I–10 in Arizona, I often stop in Benson in order to eat at Reb’s Cafe—the fried chicken, the biscuits & gravy, the meat loaf, most of the diner-style food on the menu is great, and it’s a nice, friendly place to relax going between San Diego and Las Cruces. Recently I thought to do a search of nearby bookstores, and found one right nearby: Mary Ann’s Mostly Books.

Mary Ann’s is a mess—cluttered, disorganized, books everywhere—but there are some great old books hidden in the mess. As I recall, there are shelves full of a lot of southwestern history, especially ghost towns, and I found some interesting old science fiction books on that small shelf.

I also found some older political books. People talk about how Barry Goldwater was an early form of libertarian, and I’ve been wanting to pick up something of his. After reading Murrow and Advise & Consent, Why Not Victory? seemed like an obvious choice. It appears to be a book that argues that we don’t have to give in to Soviet tyranny in order to have peace; in the Murrow book I ran across several politicians and bureaucrats who believed, in 1963, that the Soviet planned economy must by its nature outpace a free American one. It will be interesting to read an opposing view.

So it is now officially On The Table. That table is beginning to groan like Atlas under the weight. I just checked with Goodreads; so far I have read 106 books this year. Checking my database of books, I have purchased 162 this year. That is, as the environmentalists say, not sustainable. I’m gonna need a bigger table.

If you regularly travel I–10, you know how barren it is of pretty much anything. Mary Anne’s is definitely worth stopping at; especially if you stop at Reb’s, which is also definitely worth stopping at.

Besides Reb’s, if you’re in Benson you might also want to check out Singing Wind Bookshop. They have a lot of books; they tend toward newer books rather than older, and they have a slightly progressive bent. They are at the end of a long dirt driveway masquerading as a road, donkeys on the left, and a wide vista ahead. It’s on the owner’s ranch, literally off in the middle of nowhere. If you are in Benson and you have the time, it’s worth checking out at least once.

The Dream Palace of the Arabs—Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Fouad Ajami tells his story blending it through the poets and writers of the pan-Arab movement. As dictatorships arose elsewhere, exiles flooded into Lebanon and Beirut became a center of literature, poetry, and the dissident arts.

Journalism and the life of letters were in ferment. Beirut was the beneficiary of the coming-to-power of the military officer corps and the ideologues in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. Every time these lands banished a dissident or a daring writer, the dissident turned up in Beirut.

He quotes “Palestinian-Jordainian diplomat and author Hazem Nusseibah” about the new generation:

“They believed in the blending of what was the best in the newly discovered Arab heritage and in contemporary Western civilization and culture, and they foresaw no serious problem which might impair the process of amalgamation.”

Throughout the book he describes how two generations of poets and other intellectuals went from supporting a pan-Arab world of letters and freedom, to decrying peace and pushing for war.

A whole world had slipped through the fingers of two generations of Arabs who had come into their own in the 1950s and 1960s. A city that had once been their collective cultural home, Beirut, had been lost to them. A political culture of Arab nationalism, which had nurtured them, which had come to them sure of itself and had been accepted whole and unexamined, had led down a blind alley and had been made an instrument and cover for despotism and a plaything of dictators. No ship of sorrow could take these two generations back to the verities of their world. This campaign against the new peace would give the men and women of the pan-Arab tradition a chance to reclaim lost ground.

But their failure led to a dark cynicism. After Khalil Hawi (who is profiled in the first section of the book) committed suicide, “the romantic poet Nizar Qabbani” wrote that

The new jahiliyya [ignorance] is darker than the old. It has annulled the role of the poet because it wants people on their knees. It wants them to crawl. The “sultans of today” want only supporters and sycophants, and this has had the effect of emasculating the language.

Ajami is probably too optimistic at the end, seeing in the very limited abhorrence of the enthusiasm for Ahmad Musa Daqamsa’s 1997 massacre of seventh and eighth grade Israeli schoolgirls (the book was published in 1998) evidence that “in a culture of nationalism where dissent from the prevailing norms had not been easy, many had found their courage and their voice.”

Even in despair, they don’t despair enough. Ajami quotes Abdelrahman Munif:

The Case for Books in 2015—Monday, January 4th, 2016
Books to read 2016

This table is slated to collapse unless I curb the impulse to buy more books before I’ve read what I have!

Happy New Year! I started using Goodreads in 2014 to track what books I read, and that means 2015 is the first full year of tracking. According to Goodreads, I read 107 books this year. According to my database, I purchased 162 books. New Year’s Resolution: for every book I buy, I need to read at least two. Otherwise my to-read table is going to collapse.

Goodreads tells me the most popular book I read this year was Kafka’s Metamorphosis. That makes sense, I suppose. It’s a book that a lot of people have to read for school. Of course, it’s not really a book, it’s really a short story, but it’s old enough that it’s available separately on Project Gutenberg, and it’s used in enough institutional settings that it’s also available separately in print.

The longest book I read was Dhalgren, and that sounds right. It certainly took a long time to read. Of Human Bondage may be longer, but I’m reading that as an ebook and so haven’t finished it yet. I read ebooks when I have time outside the house, which means that they take longer to read anyway, and this book is long enough even without that drag.1

The least popular was an indie comic book collection, Knights of the Dinner Table, Volume 45. Well, it’s a niche publisher in a niche market.

Somewhat surprisingly, the best book I read, according to Goodreads, was The Art of Syrian Cookery. This book gets 4.8 stars on average, where five stars, the highest score, means “it was amazing”. It probably helped that only five people have rated it, and I know I tend toward the middle on rating scales2, but if this book was amazing—and in truth, I really liked it—what was Metamorphosis?

Then again, Goodreads says I gave Lebanese Cuisine five stars. At this point I couldn’t say why. Possibly its garlic sauce recipe put it over the top. Metamorphosis has no garlic.

Intellectuals and Society—Tuesday, December 29th, 2015
Intellectuals and Society

When Sowell talks about intellectuals, he is specifically talking about people whose job is ideas. The specific kind of intellectuals he’s talking about in this book are those intellectuals whose ideas will not be tested in the real world. The way he defines intellectuals, attempting to mimic the general use of the term, is those idea-makers whose only feedback comes from other intellectuals, that is, other people whose ideas will not be tested in the real world.

The standards by which engineers and financiers are judged are external standards, beyond the realm of ideas and beyond the control of their peers. An engineer whose bridges or buildings collapse is ruined, as is a financier who goes broke… The same is true of scientists and athletic coaches.

For intellectuals, however, “There is no external test.” That is the critical difference between intellectuals and scientists, businessmen, architects, those people whose job is the creation of some product. The decisions of intellectuals are irrational in the sense that rational literally means weighing one thing against another. That is, rational ideas consider the trade-offs inherent in every solution. But the intelligentsia generally declare that their solutions have no trade-offs, or if they do, they are waved away as inconsequential.

For example, whenever gas prices soar there is a general consensus among intellectuals that this is because of outrageous salaries by oil company executives. But at the time this was published, in 2009, gas prices running over $2.50, and zoomed up to $4.00 in two years under the policies of the intelligentsia. Even assuming a magical world where oil company executives could be convinced to abandon their families, and every single oil company executive were to work for zero pay, gas prices would have been reduced to, at best, ten cents less.1

But there is no consensus among intellectuals for reducing the taxes on gasoline, even though they amount to far more than the salaries of executives—that is, that the “greed” of government is more than the “greed” of executives.

And pretty much no intellectual suggests opening up new oil reserves or encouraging new forms of extraction—in fact, they oppose such measures—even though this has brought gas prices to under $2.00. The last time I went out to get gas it was at $1.659.

Even seeing the evidence of what actions really can bring the price of gas down, the complaint of intellectuals is still about oil company executives making too much money, and also, how can we stop these new oil extraction methods?

The intelligentsia’s reaction to the fall of communism is a similar example.

St. Louis: Dunaway Books—Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

I travel through St. Louis a lot now as I have good friends there and it is reasonably between Texas and Michigan, where I grew up. Since my friends in St. Louis are also book lovers, I have been discovering some great bookstores there. Dunaway Books is the most recent, and it’s worth visiting if you’re traveling through.

I visited them just before Thanksgiving; I didn’t buy much, but what I did buy was very satisfying. All three of the books I purchased on this inaugural visit have been on my want list for quite some time now. I’ve been looking for the second book in Allen Drury’s Advise & Consent series ever since I discovered it was a series. The first book was amazing. The other two books have been on my list based on recommendations, but I expect them to make good reading, too.

The upstairs area is where the more mainstream books are (though what that means today, I couldn’t say, so I probably shouldn’t use the term), and the science fiction and specialized topics such as the sciences are in the basement. The basement is a bit unorganized, but there are a lot of good books down there. I found Advise & Consent upstairs, and The Best of C.L. Moore and The Mainspring of Human Progress in the basement.

There are also some nice places to eat in the neighborhood, making it a good place to stop if you’re on a road trip.

Dunaway Books
3111 South Grand Blvd
St. Louis, MO

Nov. 24, 2015

The Mainspring of Human Progress Henry Grady Weaver $4.00 mass market paperback
A Shade of Difference Allen Drury $5.00 hardcover
The Best of C.L. Moore C.L. Moore $6.00 mass market paperback
Scoop—Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
Scoop

I read Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust several months ago, and found it mostly unimpressive. The writing was good, but the plot meandered about pointlessly and didn’t really go anywhere. Sometimes that works, but for me at least, A Handful of Dust did not. It’s likely I didn’t understand the humor; certainly, the humor in Scoop was dry enough.

I picked up Scoop because Philip Knightley, in The First Casualty had raved about it as the best kind of satire: that what Waugh writes about in Scoop actually happened, exactly as in the book, with only the names changed.

When Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s irreverent novel of Fleet Street and the hectic pursuit of hot news in “Ishmaelia” by the newly appointed war correspondent William Boot, was published in 1938, it was hailed as a “brilliant parody” of his experiences in Abyssinia. What only the war correspondents present at the time knew was that Scoop was actually a piece of straight reportage, thinly disguised as a novel to protect the author from libel actions.

This description intrigued me enough to add Scoop to my want list. I found it at the local Half Price Books a few weeks later, then read it while traveling over the last few weeks.

I can half believe Knightley’s analysis: I don’t myself believe that everything (or much) of what happens in fictional “Ishmaelia” happened anywhere near the same way in Abyssinia in real life. I can believe, however, that this is a near-perfect satirical sendup of news reporting, especially foreign news reporting.

That puts me in the camp of the non-war-correspondents who won’t admit that Scoop is very real. I don’t believe that. Nor do I need to, to enjoy the book.

Waugh’s humor in this book is very, very dry. At the risk of giving away one of the better pieces, William Boot becomes famous by creating news out of the gossip from his non-girlfriend and basically making up the details. He then transmits his report via telegraph, which necessary removes all the fluff. The fluff must be added in again by someone at the paper, who has no idea what’s going on in Ishmaelia.

  1. He hears gossip about the palace.
  2. He makes up a story from the gossip despite never being there.
  3. The newspaper adds to his story despite never even being in the country.

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