Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.
Every New Year, I make a couple of major resolutions (write a book, get my finances in order, renovate my decrepit kitchen) and one minor one: keep a list of the books I read. And every year, I usually manage to check off the more difficult items while failing abysmally at maintaining that damn list.
A recent post by Patrick on the blog for Vroman’s Bookstore in Los Angeles is a reminder of why anyone who reads a lot might want to keep a journal of each year’s books, preferably with notes. Even the truncated lists I’ve kept in the past seem more revealing to me now than any diary. What we tell ourselves about ourselves tends to be a bit of a performance; what interests — or bores — us is who we really are.
A journal of the year’s reading can also serve as a reminder of your own blind spots. Now that blogging has made personal year-end lists ubiquitous, I can’t help noticing the persistence of many lamentable old patterns: A lot of men only read books written by other men. (Women, with the exception of romance buffs, tend to be more ecumenical.) Other people exclusively read fiction or nonfiction, and still others never crack a book that wasn’t originally written in English or part of a particular genre, or about a favorite region.
Even those of us obliged to read a wide variety of books develop our own highly specific crotchets. I will resist any book set on a ranch like a cat fighting a bath; likewise, memoirs by women obsessed with their mothers. If I happen to flip through a graphic novel and see a scene in which 20-something characters complain about their relationships in a cafe — back on the display table it goes posthaste. Historical fiction set in early 20th-century America, especially the silent movie business? No, thank you very much.
We all have our little biases, and far be it from me to suggest that people force themselves to read books they don’t like, but sometimes that’s all these preferences are — prejudices. Getting out of your rut can lead to unexpected and exhilarating rewards. I once had “ironclad” rules against novels about stage magicians or rabbis in Prague (you’d be surprised how many of these there are), but if I’d stuck to that, I’d have missed one of my favorite books from the 2000s, Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.”
Champions of the book like to think that reading broadens the mind and expands the sensibility. It can’t do that, though, if the reading lists we choose from are too narrow. So this year, I’d like to join Patrick at Vroman’s by inviting Salon’s readers to make and share resolutions that will nudge them into new literary territory. He’s sworn to read at least two novels published before 1900. For myself, I resolve to try at least one contemporary French novel (another phobia) and at least three works of nonfiction on science, which I tend to skip out of sheer laziness. (I’m still drawing the line at stage magicians, though.) How will you widen your own reading horizon in 2010?
Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China
Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
“Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA
Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.
Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.
Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.