Author: Tom Wessels
Title: Granite, fire, and fog : the natural and cultural history of Acadia
Publication Info: Hanover : University Press of New England, 2017.
This book integrates the natural and cultural history of Acadia National Park in an intriguing way. Wessels describes the geological processes that created Mount Desert Island’s unique formations and how the location of the island brings together fauna and flora not found together anywhere else. For a short book, it can be quite detailed, as almost an entire chapter is dedicated to the different types of lichen that grow on the island’s rocks (don’t step on them!) and nearly as much as space to how fogs provide hydration and nutrients to the island’s plants. The Fire of 1947 is also described as a cataclysmic event that unexpectedly shaped the national park that we know today. This is a fascinating introduction to the wonders of Acadia, and a good field guide for visitors there.
Author: James Kaiser
Title: Acadia: The Complete Guide: Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island
Publication Info: Destination Press (2016), Edition: Fourth edition
This is a spectacular guidebook to one of my favorite places. You’re not going to find much about hotels or restaurants here but you will find detailed descriptions of the geology, ecology, history, and culture of Mount Desert Island. Also there are in-depth descriptions of wildlife, local foods, notable persons, and popular hikes. And all of it is richly-illustrated with glossy photographs. This is a travel guide you can read cover-to-cover like an ordinary book.
Author: Clive Finlayson
Title: The humans who went extinct : why Neanderthals died out and we survived
Publication Info: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009.
Finlayson is a paleontologist from Gibraltar who writes in this book about Neanderthals as a species of human that evolved parallel to the ancestors of homo sapiens. Finlayson challenges common beliefs such as the “Out of Africa” theory, noting that ancestral humans and proto-humans could move freely back and forth between Africa and the Eurasian landmass, especially when the ocean levels were much lower than they are now. He also theorizes that the fossil record of a many early human communities that lived by the shore have been lost to ocean levels rising. The role of climate plays a large part in Finlayson’s model of human evolution, and attributes homo sapiens adaptation to the climactic changes that made the Neanderthals go extinct more to luck than the superiority of our species. Despite the title, Neanderthals are not the main focus of this book, which is disappointing. His defensiveness about how his view contrast with the common wisdom make me wonder if he’s a renegade that cannot be trusted. While writing on a fascinating topic, Finlayson’s writing is a bit dry and repetitive so the book is less engaging than I would’ve hoped.
Author: Souad Mekhennet
Title: I Was Told to Come Alone
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2017)
Note: I received a free copy of the audiobook for this work through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
This is the memoir of Souad Mekhennet, a journalist raised in Germany but whose parents are from Turkey and Morocco. Inspired by All the President’s Men, Mekhennet goes to journalism school and enters into the business just as the September 11th attacks change the way a woman of Islamic heritage will be received in Europe and the United States. She covers the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rise of Al Qaeda and Isis, and the major terrorist attacks in Germany, France, and England. She gains unique access to meet jihadists face to face for interviews, goes into war-torn Iraq, visits the Islamic communities in European cities where the attacks on Paris were planned, and helps people mistakenly captured by the CIA. It’s an interesting life story and offers a unique perspective of the past 20 years from someone is both western and Muslim.
Recommended books: Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz
Release Date: June 10, 2015
Director: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Production Company: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
The Minions – the lovable, mischievous, and yellow sidekicks from the the Despicable Me franchise – get the full origin story in this film. The movie begins with the Minions evolving as a species that longs to serve biggest, meanest creature around. After a montage of numerous instances where the Minions enthusiasm inadvertently leads them to kill their masters, they end up in exile in an Arctic cave. After decades of a the community suffering collective depression over having no evil master to serve, three Minions -Kevin, Stuart, and Bob – set off on a journey to find a new leader. Their travels take them to 1960s New York City, then to pre-themepark Orlando for a supervillains convention, and finally to swinging London where they try out for the supervillain Scarlet Overkill. Hijinks ensue, and the Minions can be disarmingly funny, especially Bob. I feel like the movie is often trying too hard to be clever and lacks the heart of Despicable Me. Are the Minions really able to carry a movie on their own? I say no, but my kids disagree, and I suspect it succeeds as some enjoyable fluff for the younger ones.
Related Post – Movie Review: Despicable Me (2010)
Author: Daniel Handler
Title: We Are Pirates
Publication Info: New York : Bloomsbury, 2015.
This is an “adult” novel written under Handler’s real name instead of his more famous pseudonym, Lemony Snicket. Set in contemporary San Francisco, the story details the lives of a dysfunctional family living beyond their means in an Embarcadero condo. The storylines alternate between Phil Needle, a radio producer looking to exploit the legacy of an African American blues musician, and his 14 y.o. daughter Gwen, who has grown disaffected by the upper middle class life and eventually puts together a crew to steal a boat and run amok on the San Francisco Bay (the “pirates” of the title). Snicket-like touches are there such as the unreliable and mysterious narrator who begins as a guest at the Needles’ party but then locks themselves in the bathroom to begin telling the story of their hosts. And the story of Gwen and her youthful companions (plus her grandfather with Alzheimer’s) is far more engaging that Phil’s story. Ultimately, this novel felt a bit drab and I ended up finishing reading it more out of courtesy than interest.
Phil Needle wasn’t a good person, in a what-a-good-person-you-are sort of way, but he was good, somehow, surely. He was merciful. He stepped on wounded bees. He did good, and when he did bad it wasn’t his fault. It was a mistake. He was so sorry, behind the bumper sticker, for whatever and everything it was he had done.
This is a week late, but every day is Labor Day as far as I’m concerned. So here are some songs celebrating the working people.
“Bread and Roses” by Judy Collins
“Gonna Be An Engineer” by Peggy Seeger
“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes
“I Guess I Planted” by Billy Bragg & Wilco
“Joe Hill” by Paul Robeson
“More Than a Paycheck” by Sweet Honey in the Rock
“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
“Talking Union” by The Almanac Singers
“Working Class Hero” by John Lennon
I’m trying to make this a more regular feature, but until that time, enjoy some earlier Resistance Mixtapes:
Author: Candice Millard
Title: River of Doubt
Narrator: Paul Michael
Publication Info: Books on Tape (2005)
The River of Doubt, or Rio da Dúvida, was the actual, dramatic name of a river in Brazil’s Amazon region that is now called the Roosevelt River. Fresh off his failed attempt to return to the Presidency as the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party candidate, Theodore Roosevelt conducted a scientific expedition for the American Museum of Natural History to explore this remote river in 1913-14. Brazil’s greatest explorer Cândido Rondon joined Roosevelt as leader and were accompanied as Roosevelt’s son Kermit, a naturalist, and 15 porters. This book describes the adventure along the river that was plagued by waterfalls and rapids that required frequent portages, disease, loss of food and supplies, and the threat of the indigenous peoples, the Cinta Larga, tracking the expedition. One member of the party drowned, one was murdered, and the murderer was abandoned by the party in the jungle. Roosevelt himself suffered injuries and illness that brought him close to death and expressed the wish to be left behind. It’s a harrowing story that despite happening in modern times seems to be from a more distant era.
We spent the long Labor Day weekend visiting Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park in Maine. It was our first visit in 10 years, and thus our first visit with the kids. I’ve been blogging long enough to have a full travelogue of our “babymoon” in 2007 still online.
We stayed at terrific vacation home in Bass Harbor on the “quiet side” of the island.
Highlights of the trip include:
- Diver Ed’s Dive-in Theater
- Dinner on the patio overlooking Bass Harbor at the Seafood Ketch
- Making stops along the park loop road in Acadia National Park (especially Thunder Hole)
- Riding the Carriage Roads on bike rented from the helpful and friendly Southwest Cycle
- Popovers at the Jordan Pond House
Here is a small selection of my photos of this most photogenic island.
This week’s track is a weird and moody piece from King Krule, aka Archy Marshall, a singer and rapper from the UK.
This (two) weeks in podcasts.
All Songs Considered: All Songs +1: The Weird World Of ‘Feature’ Credits
Ever wondered what has lead to the great increase in songs with a “feat.” artist in the title over the past couple of decades? Or why the featured artists appears in the song title rather than the performer? Or what the difference between “feat.” and “with” or even “x” and “vs” all means? Apparently, it’s all about metadata.
Local law requires Boston City Councilors or their designees to walk the boundaries of the city every five years, a practice that was often a boozy ceremony in the past, but has been ignored since the 1980s. If the city is looking for citizens to take up perambulating the bounds again, I put my foot forward.
How algorithms, purportedly designed to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements, have been used as a cover for discrimination and marketed for purposes they’re not designed for.
The history of the most misguided myth about education, that it will resolve poverty with no other interventions required, and how it has set up schools to fail.
Finally, there are two podcasts that actually replayed episodes made by another podcast this week:
An interesting story of the first African-American advertisement executive who showed how supposed free market capitalists were losing out on money due to white supremacy.
Nate Dimeo’s thoughts on what should be placed on a plaque on a Memphis statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest to mark the reasons why the statue exists.
Author: Laura Everett
Title: Holy Spokes : The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels
Publication Info: Grand Rapids : Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017.
Rev. Laura is someone I know, mostly from Twitter, but occasionally at church or out biking the streets of Boston. This is a book about bicycling and as it’s set in Boston, it’s very familiar to me, especially the growing community of bike users that has become more active in the past decade, as well as the more somber remembrances of people who have been killed riding their bikes in recent years. Everett writes about the spirituality of bicycling, beginning with her own conversion to commuting by bike. Her ministry to the city grows as she travels the streets of the most vulnerable communities, seeing them up close without the windshield view. And biking also gives an understanding of vulnerability to the rider as bicyclists are generally maligned community, their bodies always at risk, and any protections gained despite fighting tooth and nail are generally still insufficient. It’s a beautiful book that touches on many things, cities and bikes, faith and justice. I highly recommend it.
Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan, and Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes
Author: James Baldwin
Title: The Fire Next Time
Narrator: Jesse L. Martin.
Publication Info: BBC Audiobooks America (2008)
This pair of essays published in 1963 discusses racial relations in the United States at the time and remains depressingly relevant in the present day. Baldwin, in a letter to his 14-year-old nephew, describes what it means to be black in America with unrestrained anger and compassion. The essays also examine the ineffectiveness of religion in dealing with these problems and his disillusionment with Christianity. Baldwin’s analysis of America’s problems – among both white and black people – is unrelenting, but he does offers some hope that people can eschew their narrow beliefs.
“You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying “You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine- but trust your experience. Know whence you came.”
“I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
“I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand — and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.”
Recommended books: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Author: Russ Lopez
Title: Boston’s South End, The Clash of Ideas in a Historic Neighborhood
Publication Info: Boston, MA : Shawmut Peninsula Press, 
I read this book while researching for a walking tour of the SoWa District. While only a portion of the book was relevant to my research, I found the entire book an engaging and comprehensive history of the Boston neighborhood. It’s particularly revealing if you know today’s South End – a prosperous, upscale urban area – and compare it to the near past when it was a home to working class people of color and considered for complete demolition under urban renewal. Lopez is good at telling a bottom-up story using quotes and stories to tell the life of ordinary South Enders.
Once again, I’ve gone two weeks without posting the must-hear podcasts. But lucky for you, podcasts are asynchronous so you can listen to them any time!
First, I want to promote a couple of podcasts I recently started listening to that I think are worth subscribing to:
- Five Questions With Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso – This is the first podcast I’ve heard created by someone I know, an old friend from college. As the title aptly applies, Betsy interviews everyday people, asking them not just five questions but also providing five facts and asking to list five items on topic. The answers are always insightful and I seriously want to get to know and become friends with every single person interviewed in these podcasts.
- Slate’s Hit Parade – This podcast is actually part of a larger anthology podcast called the Slate Culture Gabfest and appears once per month in that feed. Host Chris Molanphy dedicates about an hour each episode to investigating where art and commerce intersect on the popular music charts by delving into the background of how certain songs become #1 hits. So far the podcast has told the story of UB40’s “Red Red Wine,” the circumstances behind The Beatles occupying all of the top five spots in 1964, the Elton John & George Michael’s “imperial periods” when they ruled the charts, and how “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World” made big hits out of charity megasingles. Every episode is detailed and absolutely fascinating.
And some other podcast episodes you should listen too:
- Politically Re-Active with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu – this podcast remains a go to source for insights on our political climate, and the three most recent episodes deal with removing Confederate monuments, Charlottesville and the aftermath.
- The Gist – The Politics of Police Unions – I’m extremely supportive of labor organizations but equally troubled by how police unions have become vehicles for racism, right wing politics, and protecting the most violent and corrupt in their ranks. The interview with former Boston cop Tom Nolan gives some background.
- Hub History – Canoes and Canoodling on the Charles – this Boston history podcast introduced to me the history of the late nineteenth century recreational canoe craze and how kids used it to perform scandalous behavior.
Do you know anything about the SoWa district in Boston’s South End? I didn’t, so I participated in researching and writing a new Tour of the Month for Boston By Foot and will be one of the guides as the tour goes out this Sunday, August 27 at 2 pm from the Broadway MBTA station on the Red Line.
While South of Washington moniker goes back to the late 1990s, the area has a rich history of transportation, industry, immigrant and working class residences, urban renewal, and its latest reincarnation as an arts district. Come join me on Sunday to learn more about this fascinating Boston enclave.
Tickets are $15/person and can be purchased online or in person before the tour begins on Sunday.
Last Thursday, my daughter and I attended the Oldtime Baseball Game in Cambridge, MA. This annual event features players wearing woolen baseball uniforms in the style of classic major and minor league teams of the past. The players are mostly college and high school players from across the country, plus a handful of celebrities. This year Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez returned to the mound and with him came big crowds.
I’d attended the Oldtime Baseball Game several times before, but not since I moved south of the river from Somerville to Jamaica Plain ten years ago. It’s good to see that the fundraiser is growing more popular even though it meant that we ended up having to sit 4 people deep behind the outfield fence. And it was a treat to see Pedro pitch again. I believe he allowed no baserunners in his two innings pitched, and he even came to bat (albeit striking out), something he didn’t do all too often in a Red Sox uniform.
Trying to take photos with a chainlink fence in the way and my daughter grabbing my arm at the wrong moment was challenging, but here are some of the photographs that came out ok.
I’ve been meaning to make this a regular feature, and this is a good time to collect some songs written in opposition to fascists, white supremacists, and right-wing extremists of all stripes. It seems that folk and punk are the favored genres of anti-fascism, but if you know a good ripping tune from some other genre to add to the fight, let me know in the comments.
Woody Guthrie – “All You Fascists Bound to Lose”
Peggy Seeger – “Song of Choice”
Fishbone – “Subliminal Fascism”
Anti Flag – “This Machine Kills Fascists”
MDC – “Born to Die”
Aus-Rotten – “Fuck Nazi Sympathy”
Sonic Youth – “Youth Against Fascism”
Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name”