09 April 2007

Hard Cheese Halleluljah

The Very Understanding Girlfriend went away this weekend to Finland to see a good friend of hers that is now 8 months pregnant. They've been trying to catch up for some time and figured if they don't do it now her friend will be to busy in 4 weeks time (and probably for the next 18 years...). So while I sat here and basked in unseasonally warm weather she suffered through near freezing temperatures and wandered the streets in search of Bread Cheese, possibly Finland's biggest contribution to European culture after Lordi. I on the other hand had four days to occupy myself with debauchery and mischief.

Well, not exactly. In fact I sat in and read for most of the weekend, and it was great. I did manage to go out to a barbecue on Friday evening, and travel out to see my family on Sunday evening, but basically the rest of the weekend has been spent sitting on my backside reading, and I feel more relaxed than I have all year.

Best of the weekend so far has been "Alice in Sunderland" by Bryan Talbot, better known for his Luther Arkwright works. This massive graphic novel told in the first person by the author intertwines the history of the city of Sunderland and Lewis Carroll, and is quite simply one of the most stunningly woven and illustrated graphic novels I have read, a real treat and almost all true. If you ever need proof that the graphic novel can be art, entertainment and impart real knowledge and understanding, this is it.

Other books read this weekend include "House of Bush, House of Saud" by Craig Unger (the title really says it all), and Stephen Graubard's "The Presidents" which analyses the role of each of the 20th century's US presidents and assesses their role in transforming the position into a new autocratic monarchy. For a bit of lighter reading tonight we have "Pirates of the Caribbean" by Tariq Ali, focusing on a series of interviews he conducted with Hugo Chavez.

Why the sudden return to my heartfelt political roots this weekend, well to be honest most of the books I have been reading lately have been popular economics/web 2.0 bibles on long-haul flights, and I been becoming overwhelmed by the rampant capitalism. The last flight back from San Francisco was occupied by "Wikinomics" by Don Tapscott. Getting other people to do your work for you for free and making money from it is the secret sauce of Web 2.0 apparently; I thought "The Long Tail" was the secret sauce, as argued by Chris Anderson, but obviously that is so 2004. If you take a look at my bookshelf there is a serious disconnect between the plethora of webinomics books (Freidmans' "The World is Flat", Barabasi's "Linked", even Kevin Kelly's 1998 precursor to them all "New Rules for the New Economy") all bought for light reading on a flight, and the far less uplifting world-is-going-to-hades-in-a-handbasket genre as illustrated by Lester Brown's "Plan B 2.0", Heinberg's work on peak oil "The Party's Over", and the one that started it all off for me, Richard Douthwaite's "Growth Illusion".

I sometimes feel that working snuggled in the bosom of the Web 2.0 world is way too comfortable and makes it very easy to loose track of the things that really mater in life. The challenge for me is to find a way to actively reconnect with these parts of my life that in theory matter so much to me. It's easy to sit in a house with solar panels and organic paint and feel like you are doing your bit, but to be honest all that is just too passive - all I've really been doing is trying not to make things worse, when what I should be doing is trying to make things better.

While I know that the answer to this dilemma is not going to come from a book, the weekend has been exactly what I needed to get my mind back in gear and start to look for proper answers.

Oh, and read "Alice in Sunderland", you really won't regret it.

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