12 September 2010

Book Prices: Two Artifacts

Reading through one of my old journals in the quest for a poem that I wrote eighteen to twenty years ago because my nineteen year old son said some things that reminded me of its central metaphor (dissipation of smoke), I stumbled across an entry that contains a list of books purchased, retail outlets, and total price spent over approximately one week. The number of texts acquired in that week seems excessive until I compare in to the number I have acquired in the past week.

One book appears in both lists.

Journal Extract

4 January 1990

I've gone hog wild the past few days in purchase of books. In San Francisco, at City Lights Books: Mohamed Choukri, For Bread Alone, trans. Paul Bowles; at Manzanita Used Books, downstairs from John and Kay*: Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard, A History of Anthropological Thought; at the AHA [American Historical Association] conference: Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers; and Robert V. Remini, The Life of Andrew Jackson.

On the trip back to Washington at the Trees of Mystery Gift Shop: Marcelle Masson, A Bag of Bones: Legends of the Wintu Indians of Northern California.

Back in Seattle [before the trip back to the eastern part of the state and Washington State University where I was in my first year of PhD work], at Target: Gary Larson, The Prehistory of the Far Side; and Tony Hillerman, A Thief of Time (which I read that night); at Shorey's: Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence; Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men; and Click Relander, Drummers and Dreamers; at Left Bank Books: Louise Erdrich, Jacklight; Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century; and Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks; and at the University Book Store: Joseph Epes Brown, The Sacred Pipe; and Claude Levi-Strauss, Triste Tropiques. The total price of these books was approximately $125.00.

Before this list in my journal, I wrote a paragraph that connected a comment in the last book listed to a book by one of my graduate studies professors.

At the end of "Sao Paulo" in Triste Tropiques is a description of attitudes among students at a freshly founded university that would bear juxtaposition with [Albert J.] von Frank's The Sacred Game. Levi-Strauss describes his students as hungry for new ideas to adorn rather than to inform. This hunger for intellectual adornment rather than eagerness to understand the development of the ideas is a form of provincial mentality. However, Levi-Strauss should not be construed as simply claiming that the European scholar's quality of mind is superior. Earlier in his narrative he describes how his own education taught him to reduce all systems to a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis (he does not use these terms).

Second Artifact

At the beginning of the long Labor Day weekend, my wife and I went to Best Buy to look at memory chips for my camera and the Nook and Kindle readers. We left the store with none of these, but with two new iPads and some of the gear designed to protect them and enhance their use. Naturally, the iBooks reader was my first download from the App Store. It comes with A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh. I've added thirty-eight more books since then, including (I will not list them all) Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century; Ludvig von Mises, Economic Freedom and Interventionism; John Adams, Revolutionary Writings; Michel de Montaigne, The Essays of Montaigne -- Complete; James Joyce, Ulysses; Ambrose Bierce, Write It Right (I own this in paperback, too); Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (I also have the Library of America hardback edition); Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (I have a newer translation in paperback); William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience; Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room; and Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence (see the list above).

The iBooks reader is one of six book reading and storage apps that I have installed so far. In the Kindle Reader, I have nine full books and three samples in addition to the free dictionary that came with it. These include Memoirs of William T. Sherman (about $2); William Gibson, Zero History (at ~$14, my most expensive purchase out of the approximately $35 that I've spent on books the past week); Greg Gibson, It Takes a Genome; Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species; Karsten Muller, The Chess Cafe Puzzle Book; and the two volumes of Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (another text that I have in paperback).

In the Nook Reader, I have Bram Stoker, Dracula; and Rudyard Kipling, Kim. In other readers, I have such texts as Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations; Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason; Fernando Pessoa, 35 Sonnets; Sun Tzu, The Art of War; James Wilson, Collected Works, vol. 1; Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; and quite a few more.


Are books more expensive now than they were twenty years ago?

In the last days of 1989 and the first few of 1990 I drove from San Francisco to Seattle and managed to acquire fifteen books for $125. In the waning days of summer in 2010, after acquiring a device that cost some $600+ I managed to acquire fifty books or so for less than $40 without leaving my living room.

* John and Kay were friends of one of my professor's that put myself and another graduate student up while we attended an academic conference. It was in their home that I heard for the first time Allen Ginsberg reading Howl on vinyl.

Addendum: my wife reminded me that iBooks comes pre-installed on the iPad.

16 July 2010


Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Non-Fictions (1999) sits in a certain room of my house where I spend a lot of time waiting. By the end of 2010 I should have finished reading it through in one to five minute segments. There I read this morning the passage I read two days ago, being reminded anew of a passage in another book completed two weeks ago.

Borges' note on method:
I let them talk; I carefully avoided formulating questions that might suggest determined answers.
Borges, "A History of the Tango," 394

Lembke's critique:
In fact, there was much more wrong with his testimonies than he acknowledged to his readers. In the first place there is [Bob] Greene's [Homecoming (1989)] own leading question: "Were you spat upon?" Had he asked a more neutral question such as, "What were your homecoming experiences?" the veterans' responses would be much more valid.
Jerry Lembcke, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam (1998), 80

14 July 2010

This Old House

Someone built a house near the banks of the Spokane River, and at some point in the past it was abandoned.

11 May 2010


This message came in an email titled "New from an author you love."
Since you've bought something by Larry Schweikart in the past, we thought you might enjoy this new release: Seven Events That Made America America: And Proved That the Founding Fathers Were Right All Along, available June 1, 2010. Get it at a Borders store near you, or pre-order it now at and enjoy it in no time!
It might be worth noting that Schweikart's writing interests me principally because it offers a study in shoddy scholarship, logical and factual errors, distortions, propaganda, ...

Howard Zinn's work offers numerous gaps, omissions, and exaggerations to serve his political ideology. But egregious factual errors and gross misrepresentations of source material are rare. I purchased Schweikart's A Patriot's History of the United States (co-written with Michael Allen) from Borders a few years ago. When I browse in my local store, I look at other works by Schweikart and then re-shelve them and buy something else (or leave without making a purchase).

A Patriot's History of the United States clearly aims to counter Zinn's A People's History of the United States, but the real model adversary for Schweikart is Ward Churchill. Schweikart even says so, "I hope Ward Churchill is on TV every night. Every time he talks we sell another hundred books" (Patriot's History, xiii).

29 March 2010


Frederich Engels, co-author with Karl Marx of the core texts outlining the prospects of communism, offers one stereotype of American Indians:
Everything runs smoothly without soldiers, gendarmes, or police, without nobles, kings, governors, prefects or judges; without prisons, without trials. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole body of those concerned. . . . The household is run communistically by a number of families; the land is tribal property, only the small gardens being temporarily assigned to the households -- still, not a bit of our extensive and complicated machinery of administration is required. . . . There are no poor and needy. The communistic household and the gens know their responsibility toward the aged, the sick and the disabled in war. All are free and equal -- including the women.
Frederich Engels, The Origin of the Family (1884)

Chief Justice John Marshal of the United States Supreme Court, writing a half century earlier, offered a more negative assessment:
But the tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war, and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness.
Chief Justice John Marshall, Johnson v. McIntosh (1823)

Both men were wrong.

28 March 2010

Art of History

Historical narrative imposes order upon chaos. The historian employs deception, omission, distraction, distortion, repetition, simplification, figurative language and images, slander, generalities, card stacking, ...

08 March 2010

World Malaria Day

I have written several posts on this blog concerning the historical impact of disease. Many diseases continue to ravage modern populations. Malaria is the most prolific killer. As average global temperatures rise, the regions hospitable to the parasites that cause malaria will grow. Much can be done to protect those in affected regions.

Read more of the following at the website for World Malaria Day.

World Malaria day--A Day to Act

25 April 2010 is a day of unified commemoration of the global effort to provide effective control of malaria around the world. This year's World Malaria Day marks a critical moment in time. The international malaria community has less than a year to meet the 2010 targets of delivering effective and affordable protection and treatment to all people at risk of malaria, as called for by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon.

World Malaria Day represents a chance for all of us to make a difference. Whether you are a government, a company, a charity or an individual, you can roll back malaria and help generate broad gains in multiple areas of health and human development.

31 January 2010

Who Was Fritz Kraemer? And Why We Should Care

Who Was Fritz Kraemer? And Why We Should Care

by Luke A. Nichter

Whether Vietnam, Iraq, or now Afghanistan, wars come and go, but the real battle is a philosophic one between two sects of conservatives. In The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons from Nixon to Obama, authors Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman challenge readers to examine the role of a little-known Pentagon figure named Fritz G.A. Kraemer. Colodny and Shachtman argue that Kraemer was the leading intellectual behind what became known as the neo-conservative movement, witnessed by the fact that Kraemer influenced so many high-ranking conservative figures over the course of six decades.

Continue reading at History News Network.

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01 January 2010

After the Carnage

A single train engine ran through a flock of sheep leaving a bloody mess. Then,
Presley saw again, in his imagination, the galloping monster, the terror of steel and steam, with its single eye, Cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to horizon; but saw it now as the symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood and destruction in its path, the leviathan, with tentacles of steel clutching into the soil, the soulless Force, the iron-hearted Power, the monster, the Colossus, the Octopus.
Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901)
My recollections of reading this novel nearly twenty years ago are vague. McTeague (1899) is far more memorable. Never far from my consciousness is the scene early on when McTeague gets a billiard ball stuck in his enormous jaws, and the panic that shows in his eyes until the ball flies across the room after a hard pat on the back. Likewise, Trina's bedding with her gold remains an unforgettable image. Somehow, The Octopus carried less weight in that graduate seminar so long ago. Norris's grand novel offered a strong metaphor at the center, but a less memorable story than his story of a dentist. Did we really read the book?

In any case, another effort to get through Frank Norris's tale was stimulated last night when I began anew my reading of the classic biography of President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1898, there had been twenty multi-million-dollar industrial trusts; now, there were one hundred and eighty-five. The proliferation evoked an image, in many minds, of a constrictive organism stretching out to every extremity of American civilization. Hence the title of Frank Norris's new antitrust novel: The Octopus.
Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (2001)

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