Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: The Devil's Milk: A Social History of Rubber by John Tully

I came across this book while visiting the UNCA library and walking past the new book section. We all know the drill: I am fascinated by concise histories of random, interesting things. Enter rubber.

Rubber, much like plastic, is ubiquitous, and most people go through life not realizing just how dependent their everyday lives are on it-- or the social, environmental, and human costs that have been (and continue to be) associated with its production.

Tully begins with an easy-to-understand description of rubber's physical and chemical properties, an brief overview of a few types of rubber production, and a quick but exhaustive list of things that the modern world wouldn't have if humans hadn't figured out how to harvest and process it. From there, he launches into a history of rubber that takes the reader from plantations in South America and Southeast Asia to the fledgling union movement in the American Midwest to World War II in Europe-- and beyond.

All told, this book is not only very interesting and enlightening, it is cogent, entertaining, and easy for a layperson to understand. Tully does an excellent job juggling narratives in multiple times and places, weaving them into a cohesive whole. A must-read for anyone who enjoys social histories, is interested in industrialization/globalization and their discontents, or simply wants to learn more about where rubber comes from. 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, February 27, 2012

In which I fix my hair, for once.

Another consequence of falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole: I've started fixing my hair again. I wore it like this yesterday: 

The more I do stuff like this, the better I get at things like hiding bobby pins and fixing the back of my hair without a mirror. 

I'm also at something of a crossroads where my hair is concerned. I haven't cut it since November, and the ends are starting to look a little rough. The longest layers are about three or four inches past my shoulders, and I can't decide if I want to keep the length or hack my hair back up to my shoulders, which is the way I've been wearing it for the last year or so. On one hand, I prefer the way long hair looks on me and I can do more awesome hair styles with it. On the other, it's a pain in the ass to maintain and I spend way more money on products to keep it healthy and looking nice. Short hair is way easier to deal with-- unless I need to wear it up, and then it becomes a gigantic pain in its own right. 

Back in the day, I owned a few dolls whose hair would grow if you pulled one arm and could be cranked back into their heads by another. I have no idea what they were called, but I really wish my hair would do that. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

FO Friday: Blue Hat

Me February hat is completed! Yay!

Pattern: Improvised. I don't usually use patterns when I make hats.
Yarn: Mystery light blue worsted.
Needle: US #8
Finished Size: Head-shaped.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WiP Wednesday: Scarf for February

A few rows away from being halfway done. 

Hopefully, I'll have this finished quick-like. 

It's going to match a hat I made a long time ago, and I should have enough left over to make some mittens, too. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Now that school has started again, I am back to listening to audiobooks on the long trip between Asheville and Cullowhee. I found someone to carpool with on Mondays, but I'll be driving myself on Tuesdays. That's almost two and a half hours of driving a week, plus all the regular driving I do to my job, internship, and bars. I'll probably be able to knock out around two a month. Luckily, the Asheville library system has a pretty good collection of audiobooks, and once I've exhausted them, I can use the digital library to listen to them via my cell phone or tablet.

Technology is so neat. Speaking of which...

It's hard to describe The Adoration of Jenna Fox without spoiling most, if not all, of the major plot twists. Instead of a plot summary, I will ask a series of rhetorical questions:

What would you do if you woke up and weren't you anymore?
What does it mean to be alive?
What does it meant to be human?

and, as the cover asks,

How far would you go to save someone you love?

I really, really liked this book. It's a thought-provoking meditation upon the nature of humanity, technology, and the ethical dilemmas that surround them. Pearson does an excellent job humanizing her characters as she delineates why they have made the choices they made and how they led to the "present" Jenna Fox.

Highly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My obsession with early flowers continues.

When I lived elsewhere in the country, my friends would sometimes ask me what people from Appalachia are like. Reflecting upon my family members and their multitude of idiosyncrasies, I would often remark that my people are "superstitious to the point of paganism." As my dad once put it, "You don't talk about bad things because you don't want them to happen to you. You don't talk about good things, either, because then they might not happen." My paternal grandmother was as superstitious as they come, and a worrywart to boot, and it apparently rubbed off on him in force.

When I was filling out my application to Western and trying to get them to take me as an in-state student, I had to ask my dad when he'd last served jury duty-- and was quickly informed that when it happened, which would surely be soon, it would be all my fault. Someone's managed to duck his civil duty for years, it would seem.

I am not very superstitious myself; I've never seen any connection between my voicing my expectations (or not) or bad or good things coming to me accordingly. Still, though. I'll not state the obvious here, in hopes that I get what I want.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

I finally got my hands on the third and final installment of the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I can't really describe it or its plot points in detail without spoiling the end of the first book and all of the second, so I'll hit the high points: Siberia, Japan, the United States, hot air balloons, Tesla, espionage, assassination plots, and cute critters. It wraps up the previous two books nicely, and all of the things I said about the series (good and bad) in the previous reviews hold true for this one.

Overall, it's a very entertaining and engaging read. 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 10, 2012

FO Friday: The Ugliest Socks Ever

That feeling you get when you realize there are GIANT STRIPES OF YOUR LEAST FAVORITE COLOR in your socks.

I really hate pink.

Anyway, the deets:

Pattern: Basic Sock Recipe by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Yarn: OnLine Supersocke Relax-Color in #1105
Needle: US #1 and US #2
Finished Size: Fitted to my extra-small feet, yo.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

Feminism is for Everybody is the February selection over at the 2012 Classic Feminist Literature Challenge.

I am a big fan of bell hooks, and have read Feminism is for Everybody a number of times over the last several years. It's one of those books that gets assigned a lot in undergraduate women's studies classes, which is why I've read it three times (at least). It's easy to see why it's so popular: it is clear, succinct, and no-nonsense. It lacks the fuzzy-wuzzy woo woo aspect of what I refer to as Cosmopolitan Feminism as well as the dense, twenty-five-cent-word-laden academic prose you find in Intentionally Obtuse, Missing-the-Point Feminism-- both of which, I'll argue, is what makes feminism unattractive (if not unreachable) to poor women, women of color, and a lot of men.

There's a lot to like about Feminism is for Everybody:

  1. bell hooks' definition of feminism: "A movement to end sexist oppression," is by far my favorite. I actually don't care for the dictionary definition of feminism, which merely requires people to theoretically support social, political, and economic equity with no expectation of action on their part. I'm not a fan of passive acceptance of an idea; I think that if you really believe in something, you should be out there doing something about it. 
  2. In a similar vein, I think it is important that bell hooks focuses on justice rather than equality on paper (which is, in my opinion, the downfall of liberal feminism and why I don't identify as one). It plays into the schism between ideology and action: just because we say or think things are equal, or have laws to that effect, doesn't mean they are. In many cases, equality on paper furthers oppression and discrimination (to wit: laws that treat pregnancy and childbirth as a medical disability. Little good has come of that).
  3. Flowing from that argument is the concept of intersectionality: that social oppressions do not exist in a vacuum and therefore cannot be disentangled from one another. Sexism feeds into racism, which feeds back into sexism, which feeds into classism and so on and so forth. Therefore, in order to really end sexism, we also have to end racism, classism, and homophobia. 
  4. Lastly, bell hooks takes a number of feminists to task over the previous item, pointing out that the movement has historically only served the interests of women who are affluent and white, often to the detriment of lesbians, poor women, and women of color. The notion that individuals are accountable for the effect their choices and priorities have on others is a bitter pill for a lot of those who subscribe to liberal feminism (or the Yay sisterhood! Feminism is about choice!  types) to swallow, but I still think it's important. Making a movement unaccountable to its followers and the behavior of its supporters above reproof doesn't lead to anything good. 
I maintain everyone should read this. It's short, easy-to-read, and a great introduction to why I hate men so damn much am a feminist. 5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 3, 2012

FO Friday: Tonks Fingerless Gloves

My January Mittens project is complete:

Pattern: Progressive Gloves by Pam Allen
Yarn: Opal Harry Potter sock yarn in the Tonks colorway
Needle: US #1
Finished Size: Sized to fit my elfin hands, yay!

They match a hat I made a few years ago. This is why I save leftover yarn, people! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WiP Wednesday: Two Socks

I think it's really crazy how I can bang out a plain sock in ~two days, whereas it takes me weeks to do a patterned one. Either way, the patterned sock on the left is part of my February Socks, and the blue one on the right is left over from January. I should be able to finish both by the end of the month (I hope).