Best SF of 2013

I didn't think I would have read any of these, since SF, especially the new stuff, is not my genre so much anymore. But one I have not only read, but recommended to scores of people, I liked it that much.


Reading the world in one year

Writer Ann Morgan (pictured) set herself the interesting project of reading a book from every UN country in the world plus former member Taiwan. Then she wrote this engaging post about it on the BBC Culture blog.
Right away, you begin to realize the technical challenge if you think about this. Sitting in the UK, where only about 4% of books are translations, and those only from a few major languages, you immediately wonder, how to get the books? Her first step was to create a blog and use it to reach out to book lovers around the world and ask for help. She discovered that storytelling, not written works, were still the main literary medium in some countries, such as the Marshall Islands and Niger. But then even in adapting to the difficulties, she was learning, and sharing on the blog, a new and deeper layer of cultural knowledge about the world. Here is the list, by the way.


Roosevelt Library Book Club

I have been appointed to the board of the Friends of the Roosevelt Library. There has not been an election of board members because we are the first one. The group just got started this spring, in time to host the Grand Re-opening on June 1st. We just held our first Book Sale last Saturday and made $550 with a five hour sale, which is not too bad for just starting out. Our next project is to get some book clubs going. We may have Teen Book Clubs later on, but we're starting out with two Adult Book Clubs. Mine is just called Adult Book Club and it is being kicked off as a follow-up to the One Minneapolis, One Read event, which is October 3rd. Everyone in Minneapolis who wants to take part reads the same book - A Choice of Weapons, by Gordon Parks. Then your local library or your school if you're a student will be holding a discussion session. At Roosevelt we will announce that one month hence will be the first Adult Book Club meeting. The first book is The March by E. L. Doctorow (reviewed way down below) and the meeting will be November 7 at 6 pm. The second book will be Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and that one will meet the first Thursday in December, also at 6 pm.  The other book club starting out in November at Roosevelt will be the Mystery Book Club. It will meet the first Saturday of the month, and you can find out more details in the library.


Launch of Always a New Leaf

On Sunday, the 7th of July, 2013, I launched this blog as a successor to my previous book blog Deborama's Book Reviews and Store.  I am moving most of the stuff from the old blog to here, with its original publication dates (mostly). But the reason I need a new blog is that the old one was an Amazon Affiliate, but it was a UK Amazon Affiliate. It hasn't earned any money in several years, and I no longer have access to the email address the Amazon Associates account was linked to.
Just a navigational point and a style point : below this launch post are my copied blogposts from Deborama's Book Reviews and Store, but without the graphics of the books or the monetized links. Just above this post will be one or more posts with loads of book links if you want to buy the books from whatever US store is my new affiliate. That's the navigational point. The style point has to do with English spelling. The posts I wrote in England have all British spellings. The ones I wrote after repatriating to America have all American spellings. That's just how it has to be; deal with it.
Another style point, but blogging style rather than writing style is that the relaunch blog will be more closely tied into Bookcrossing, Goodreads, Facebook and other social media. Also the Hennepin County Library system, my position on Friends of the Roosevelt Library, the Little Free Libraries that cover my neighborhood, and my condominium-based book club and writing club. Follow me if you love reading.


Nordic Noir: From Wallander to Borkmann's Point

Editor's Note: This is the last of my "old" blogposts. Since this post, I have discovered, here in the US, cable channel MhzWorldview which has an international mystery series every night of the week. Swedish Wallander and Van Veeteren are both on there, and the older Wallander, before Krister Henriksson (above), before Yellow Bird Productions. Yellow Bird produced Henriksson's Wallander and the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films (Swedish, that is) and the Swedish-Danish crime miniseries The Bridge, which is too recent to be on MhzWorldview but which I saw on Hulu. I tried but failed to get my condo book club to like Nordic Noir. However, the Roosevelt Library Book Club mostly loves it too. 
I have been on a Nordic Noir kick ever since the British Wallander debuted on the BBC, which led me to the Swedish Wallander, which I liked better, which led me to the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and it just sort of went on from there. HÃ¥kan Nesser is Swedish but I think his main character, Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, is of some indeterminate northern European country, which could be Sweden or Holland or Poland, according to Wikipedia. He seems to use British police titles and ranks, which makes sense because he has lived in London for the past couple of decades. Van Veeteren is a popular character, and some of the early novels have been made into TV series in Sweden. In the first five, VV is still on the police force, and in the next five, he is retired and running an antiquarian bookshop but still getting involved in cases. He is something like a halfway mark between Sherlock Holmes and Wallander, with some of the wry and negative self-awareness that Holmes lacks and also some of the mysterious methodology, a mix of genius, showmanship and intuition, that Wallander lacks. Borkmann's Point is about a serial axe-murderer with exactly three victims, at least until he kidnaps a female police detective and no one is sure why or if he has killed her. The Point in the title is a point in time defined by Borkmann, a well-remembered mentor from VV's early days as a detective. He taught that there is always a point in the investigation where you have all the information you need to solve it, and all the information that comes in after that point will slow you down rather than help you. So if one can learn to discern that point, one can ignore all the extraneous information and just sit at ones desk and think. Unfortunately, you can only recognize Borkmann's Point after you have solved the crime, so it's more of a thought experiment than a tactic.


Cancel all the debts and redistribute the land

This was my first article published in the Southside Pride, a venerable, fairly political journal based in a wide collection of South Minneapolis neighborhoods. I was asked to write an article on any topic I liked, as long as it led to a pitch for forming the new Minneapolis Farmer-Labor Association, as it came to be known. I am not totally happy with this article, but I continued to contribute to SSP and I think I am getting better. My articles are also picked up by a local non-profit news aggregator, Twin Cities Daily Planet. 

According to David Graeber, “Cancel all debts and redistribute the land” was the program of every revolution from ancient times up to the birth of mercantile capitalism. In the introduction to Graeber’s book “Debt: The First 5000 Years,”
he describes a scene at a fundraising party in Westminster. He is discussing his international anti-poverty work with a woman who works for a domestic anti-poverty charity. He explains about the predatory lending to corrupt leaders of impoverished nations and what devastation it has wrought, and she asks him what he believes should be done. The IMF must be abolished and the debts cancelled he tells her, and to his consternation this good lady says, “But they borrowed the money. Surely, everyone has to pay back their debts?” Snap! I had almost this exact thing happen to me—twice—in acknowledged leftist circles here in the Twin Cities when I suggested that perhaps not all student borrowers DO have a moral obligation to pay back their debts.

I have what it’s trendy to call “a takeaway” from this: Not only do we have to have radical change, but we need to change the terms of the conversation before even the leaders and activists for change can contemplate the needed transformation. Right now, the country is struggling not only with high unemployment, ongoing wars that harm our nation, looming irreversible environmental damage, and crises in education and health care that are destroying our very future. We are also wasting energy struggling against phantoms: the” fiscal cliff,” the “culture wars” and how to think about, for instance, over a trillion dollars in student debt (that of course must be paid back!
NOT). The first thing we have to change, and urgently, are the terms of the conversation. The whole debate including the one in our own heads has to be shifted leftward and made more radical. I have nothing against progressives; most of my best friends are progressives. But progressives need one thing they don’t know they need: they need cover on the left. They need not to be the closest thing to socialism on the spectrum of those working for results in the electoral and policy arena.

In the mid-1990s I was involved in an attempt to set up a third party with a similar agenda for change. It was not successful in the long run for reasons I won’t go into here, but the New Party had two guiding principles that I think still apply. 1)

Don’t waste people’s votes. 2) Start locally and grow organically. What this means is that the iron is now hot for a very specific and effective strike. Here in Minneapolis, there is an Occupy Homes movement garnering national attention, winning victories and changing the conversation. The recent national elections revealed a whole host of voters impatient with the acquiescence of the mainstream Democratic Party, including the DFL, but with nowhere else to go electorally. Here in Minneapolis we also have lively conversations going on in forums, clubs, churches, affinity groups and unions about what needs to be done, both locally and nationally. So, we have to work within the DFL to effect this needed change, and we have to organize to the left of the progressives to move the debate over and we need to focus, to start with, on our own city.

As it happens, there is a historical label that we can pick up and put on our banner: Farmer-Labor, the FL in the DFL. We are planning to launch a new caucus for the ward conventions and city convention of the DFL this year. An inaugural meeting will be held Monday, March 18, at 7 p.m. at the old Nordic Center, 4200 Cedar Ave. The meeting is open to all eligible voters in Minneapolis. Precinct caucuses will be April 16 and we hope to have a small army of activists attending these caucuses with a clear and cohesive agenda for change in Minneapolis. What will that agenda consist of? Join the organizing effort and you can help determine that. Among the exciting ideas on the table is having Minneapolis join the growing vanguard of cities that are taking the business of selling electricity away from profit-making corporations like Xcel and starting a municipally owned utility.

Another idea: local agitation for a foreclosure moratorium. Relief for underwater homeowners and protection for affected renters can be joined up with making sure the sheriff and police don’t act as enforcers for predatory banks.
Whatever your pressing local issues are, here is a chance to have them heard in a forum where they’re not crazy or utopian, but actually could be part of a platform for meaningful change.

Join the Facebook group or Google Group, both called Minneapolis Farmer Labor Caucus, and be a part of the discussion.