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« June, 2003 »

The Frozen Water Trade   book icon  
by Gavin Weightman (2003)

read: 29 June 2003
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

We all tend to take home refrigeration for granted. I’m vaguely aware that people had iceboxes, and fresh ice delivered daily, but I’m not quite sure how that all took place. I got an old video out of the library here that showed how the various ice farmers would score and cut chunks of ice from the frozen lakes in the area and store them in big icehouses for the winter. The very last of these icemen were filmed in color.

This book is a meticulous look at how people first began to see ice as a product to be marketed rather than as a side effect of winter. It traces the history of the first ice baron, Boston’s Frederic Tudor, through decades of financial peril, emotional wreckage and international travel as he developed a business model, finagled for a business monopoly, and finally after much hard work, began delivering ice to far-off lands such as Calcutta, Cuba and Haiti. The book looks not only at the models of getting the ice, but also of creating a market for it -- how Tudor in cahoots with local businessmen actually created a demand for a product that people didn’t even “know” they wanted -- by offering discounts on iced drinks and introducing ice cream as a high-class leisure confection. The business was a sure thing: the ice was free, and people would pay for it. Weightman’s research is impressive and yet so are his storytelling abilities. As someone who grew up around some of the ponds he describes as early suppliers for Tudor, I found it very interesting.

Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic   book icon  
by Daniel Harris (2000)

read: 29 June 2003
rating: [-]
category: uncategorized

Where to begin? I couldn’t stand this book. It may be the first book in this list that I couldn’t even finish. Harris discusses consumer’s weird predilections for oddness in their buying preferences at the same time as he seems to gasp “but we just can’t help ourselves!” His annoying use of the word We in this sentence is just one of my many gripes with this book, along with its snobbery, anecdotes passing as reference, and just general disdain for everything. Harris seems to think that nothing is authentic and so derides consumer things for pretending authenticity, as opposed to the people who own those things. Pomo dreck. Skip it.

It Takes a Village Idiot   book icon  
by Jim Mullen (2001)

read: 29 June 2003
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

I always swear I am not going to enjoy one more “city dweller moves to country, hilarity ensues” books and yet here I go again. Mullen is a writer for Entertainment Weekly whose wife has developed a fixation for getting a country place. Mullen is hesitant, she is whole hog into it. He grudgingly goes along with her plans and they wind up with a place in upstate NY and travel six hours every weekend to get to and fro.

The scenes are so stereotyped at some level they’re perfunctory and yet Mullen is very funny. he manages to talk about his neighbors and their attemps to orient him to country ways without taking on the snotty tone that so many people do when attemping this sort of writing. He seems to be a man who genuinely likes people and getting to know what makes him tick. I can imagine this makes him a good celebrity writer and it also gives him a good eye for stories like this one.

I’ll also have to admit, I saw myself [with me and my boyfriend trying to beat the other young couple to the Yellow Store on Sunday to get the last copy of the Times] more than a few times, so I felt a special warm spot for what he and his wife were up against and also how rewarding their time in the country was.

Corruption   book icon  
by Tahar Ben Jelloun (1995)

read: 29 June 2003
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

This story takes place in contemporary Morocco where all the officals are corrupt, except one, and he is curious. This is a slim novel about one man’s attempts to stay clear of corruption while at the same time desiring things he cannot have without tainting himself. In this story, the status quo is that everyone takes money in various forms for doing their jobs. Without this extra money, it’s very hard to earn a living at a government job. The narrator barely gets by but his wife is constantly after him to earn more by being corrupt and many of their freidns seems to think he is somehow mentally defective for not being on the take.

The author spends a lot of time inside his own head questioning his motives and trying to decide if the path he has chosen for himself is justified. When he does take one small bribe in an attempt to both court his mistress and provide needed medical care for his daughter, his world goes into a tailspin from which he spends a long time recovering. The morality of everyone’s situation is shown in many shades of grey and the language itself, translated from French, is lovely to read.

One Market Under God   book icon  
by Thomas Frank (2000)

read: 3 June 2003
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

Two quick observations that I was thinking about before I start. One, when I saw Tom Frank speak at Left Bank Books when the Conquest of Cool came out, he freaked me out by wearing a very tweedy jacket with elbow patches which I thought was an odd outfit to wear to speak to a bunch of anarchists. Second, I bet the fact that this book has the word “Extreme” in the subtitle [which is"Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy"] sold more than a few copies.

Okay, I drove my boyfriend completely crazy by reading out loud from this book every five seconds. Frank is the most readable kind of historian, he is equally facile quoting from TV commercials or from Hume. He’s educated, yet not in a rub-your-face-in-it way. On the other hand, his conclusions are so well backed up, so rooted in real Things that Happened and Were Documented, that he’s very very persuasive. Not that I needed to be persuaded that America is tossing away real political democracy in favor of this BS “democracy of the market” tripe that we see in the media, on the TV and in the management styles that invade our workplaces even as they fire more and more people. Frank calls this phenomena “market populism” and he hates it. But he doesn’t just hate it in a [this is bad] way but he sneers at it; he is incredulous that we as a society have been duped into giving up democratic control of our institutions and handing it over to people to use for profit.

More specifically, he covers the weird stock market boom of the late nineties when anyone with a TV or newspaper was sure that everyone was investing in the market, everyone was getting rich and no one was being harmed by this newfound wealth surplus America was experiencing. Or, as my Dad put it “The market creates wealth, it’s not taking money from one person and giving it to another” [with the hidden caveat that this is what you government is doing any maybe that’s not so great...]. Frank debunks this myth with lots and lots of hard-to-argue with facts that illustrate why the superrich have a solidly vested interest in making you believe that you control your own econonmic destiny while at the same time trying to influence and strongarm you into giving them more money in the form of mutual fun and stock investing and more and more consumer spending.

It’s a rare history book that I could read a second time, but this could be the one.

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