Its been a bit of a crap week for me in terms of books, which I suppose I could blame on my inability to choose, but would rather blame on the books. Nonetheless, there were redeeming qualities for both.
For “second rung” of self-improvement, I will be working on Spanish and Bhangra (see “Living Deliberately” category
The Necessary Revolution-this book is a guide for how (as a business leader) to remake your company sustainably, to encourage dialogue and build teams to promote organizational thinking reduce your carbon footprint.
The book starts strong, offering a useful overview of “systems thinking” the process of thinking not about parts, but of an entire system. By and large, they offer great examples of how systems thinking—from how energy is produced, delivered and used, to all aspects of a supply chain and the externalities in manufacturing, using, and eventually disposing of a product—can be a helpful and important way of making a company sustainable.
I tried to be open-minded (as the authors warned about activists who are unproductively anti-corporate), but grew annoyed that the one system they never seem to question is the corporate system. They take corporations for granted, even going so far as to hold up Coca-Cola as a bastion of appropriate water resource management (glibly glossing over the company’s cynical role in the growing problem of water privatization). They even laud BP as an example of a company that has put great amounts of money into its alternative energy sources, a myopic focus on one part of the “BP system” that seems wistfully obvious post-Gulf disaster.
It gets one thing right, in that we need systemic change now, and that will require corporate, as well as political and social overhaul.
The book sometimes comes close to being a manual for green-washing, but the sections/toolkits on systems thinking, generative dialogue, and building a constructive, diverse team are well constructed and useful for any activist or community organizer to look at as well. Only read, really, if you are an activist or an entrepreneur, or both.
50 Best American Essays of the Century-edited by Joyce Carol Oates. This could more appropriate be called 50 Non-fiction Pieces Joyce Carol Oates Really Likes. As one of the best traditions of American literature, she does a disservice to the essay form in choosing pieces that lean heavily on the anecdotal, and not on the persuasive, to the point where many are essays in length only. The collection is more revealing of Oates’ political and social perspectives than anything else, as the essays seem to be chosen according to her own uninteresting proclivities.
There are some gems amongst these memoir-ish, self-absorbed pieces. Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” provides a interesting deconstruction of “campy” aesthetic, and also a window into why camp (genuine, with unintended irony) is so enjoyable, while the deliberate irony of hipsters is frankly annoying.
T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and Individual Talent” lays the groundwork for modernism, while William James’ “The Moral Equivalent of War” offers a thoughtful argument for pacifism and a window into its inability to gain mass acceptance
Nabokov’s “Perfect Past” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” are the best two of the personal essays.
All of these can be read separately and without this cumbersome, forgettable collection.